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da1Off the Clock and In the Line of Duty are romance novellas by Donna Alward. They were originally distributed as eBooks and later printed together as First Responders Volume 1.  They, and others in the series, are available at http://www.samhainpublishing.com/author/7/donna-alward.

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Alward’s Harlequin books: Sleigh Ride with the Rancher, A Family for the Rugged RancherHired by the Cowboy, and Her Lone Cowboy. Last year I had the pleasure of meeting her at a local literary event, and got up the courage to ask why she kept setting stories in Alberta when she lives in Nova Scotia. She suggested I purchase First Responders, for something a little different. I did (and even rather shyly got it signed).da2

These stories are different from her Harlequins – at least her older ones. Apart from being set in and around Wolfville, Nova Scotia, there’s sex. After the unrequited eroticism of Her Lone Cowboy, a couple of well written sex scenes are appreciated, and Alward achieves the happy medium of characters who enjoy sex without letting it drive their relationship or the plot. Much as I enjoy sweet romances, if you have two healthy single characters who are fond of each other and spend a lot of time together, but never want more than a kiss, it starts to seem odd.

Alwards tends to realism, but these stories have more than I was expecting. Both use the device of a hero and heroine who already know each other, and while the story telling is brisk, the relationships grow slowly over several months. As usual, both the men and the women have strengths and weaknesses, and everyone has their wounds to overcome.

In Off the Clock, off-duty paramedic Gabe is first on the scene of a car accident. Carly is not seriously hurt, but very pregnant, and the accident has brought on labour. Years earlier, Carly’s brother was Gabe’s best friend, and Carly and Gabe were fond of each other. Then things happened, and Carly and Gabe drifted apart. Carly married someone, but he left when she became pregnant. Gabe accompanies her to the hospital, and both of them start to wonder if they should get together. As charming as the story is, it occasionally suffers from the “why don’t you just talk about it” problem.

In the Line of Duty is a much stronger story. Kendra is a no-nonsense cop, living a quiet and well ordered life, and when she visits Jake’s bar to investigate a break and enter, she’s all business. She doesn’t like bars, and she especially doesn’t like Jake. He was a trouble maker she once arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and she’s not impressed that he’s opened a bar after coming back from military service in Afghanistan. Jake, on the other hand, finds her very desirable, and sets out to prove he’s not the man she thinks he is. The obstacles to romance are more challenging here than in Off the Clock, the characters are more colourful, there’s a hot beach scene, and there’s a poignant note that reminds us of the grim realities of being a first responder.

I’m planning to pick up the rest of the series, and see what else Alward has done recently. Alward wrote ten manuscripts over five years before she started publishing. I’m pleased she persisted, and that her work keeps getting better. The bubble bath rating is Ombra Vanilla – good stuff.

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