Recent Reading: Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

Words that have seldom if ever passed my lips in real life: Aww. He’s so cute when he’s drunk!

And yet, there it is. Aww. Matthieu Rosier is just so adorable when Layla first meets him, at his birthday party, at midnight, when everybody at the party is a bit smashed, Matthieu more than some. Her car broke down, see, and she walked across the rose fields to ask for help. This is how that goes:

He turned to the door and ran straight into a guest trying to slip inside the house. Her face smashed into his chest, and he looked down at a wild mass of bronze-tipped curls and then at a heart-shaped face tilting back to look up at him as she bounced backward.

“Well, hello,” he exclaimed, delighted, picking her straight up off the floor before she fell. Then he wasn’t quite sure what to do with her – maybe it had been a bit excessive, picking her up completely to stop her from falling? Still, he could hardly drop her now.

And then he can’t bring himself to admit he doesn’t know who she is, when he’s supposed to know everybody at his party. Right? And she’s so cute! He sure doesn’t want any of his male cousins making a move on her and cutting him out, so naturally he declares grandly to the first relative who asks that she’s his girlfriend . . .

Okay, now, look. I think this scene works so well because it’s from his point of view, and so we are in no doubt at all about how nice a guy he really is, even with all his inhibitions and most of his sane judgment smashed flat. He is so, so appalled when he wakes up – with a tremendous hangover – and realizes how he acted when this cute girl who was a complete stranger knocked on the door for help. And that’s the start of Laura Florand’s sweetest, warmest romance to date.

Matthieu is genuinely adorable. Layla is genuinely adorable. But there is a problem! For reasons too complicated to go into here, Matt’s great-aunt gave Layla a house that rests smack dab in the middle of the Rosier valley, and since Matt is heir to the Rosier family’s perfume business and responsible for every single thing in the valley, this strikes at the heart of his sense of identity. So there’s that. Especially since Layla accidentally springs this inheritance on him as a total surprise.

And yet . . . every single one of Matt’s cousins instantly sees what a genuinely adorable couple they would make and starts nudging them together. Oh, no, sorry, it’s so complicated to get to the village from here! I’m terrible with directions. You know, you should probably ask Matt.

Okay, stuff you can probably see coming, since this is a Laura Florand romance: Matt and Layla are beautifully suited to each other and it all works out at the end. Also, family is important and the relationships between Matt and his clutter of male cousins are great – competitive and supportive at the same time. Also, everyone’s backstory has historical depth and emotional scope. WWII is getting to be ancient history, hard though that is to believe, but not for the Rosier family.

Also, the scenery! I’ve never particularly wanted to visit France – the African savannah is more my thing – but honestly, now I long to visit Provence. In rose season. Although I must admit, it would be disappointing not to find the Rosier family right there in their valley, just as described in Once Upon A Rose. They feel like they ought to be there, every one of them, from old Jean-Jacques Rosier to Great-Aunt Colette right through the whole bunch of cousins.

Also, the fairy tales. I’m sure you remember that Laura Florand puts fairy tales in her romances, right? I knew there were supposed to be two in this one, and there were, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to get them, because I fell into the story and forgot to keep an eye out. They’re pretty obvious when you remember to look for them, though. It does add charm to have those fairy-tale-echoes worked into the story.

Overall, let me repeat, this is probably the sweetest, warmest story Florand has written to date. The setting supports the sweetness and warmth – the rose harvest is underway – but so does everything else about the story. Matt may blow up when he finds out that Layla owns that little house in the middle of his valley, but he’s just so charmed by her. Layla is shocked at his outrage, but she’s equally charmed by him, not to mention she’s just naturally generous and warm and playful. Their worst misunderstanding only takes a few paragraphs to resolve, because by that time they’ve already built quite a bit of trust into their relationship. This isn’t the kind of thing where, for a hundred pages of misunderstandings and hurt feelings, you shout in your head, But can’t you two just talk to one another? Because they do.

So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the next story in this series. My pick for male lead would be Damian, but fine, fine, I’ll take Tristan (there’s a note at the end that says the next book will focus on Tristan). I expect that one will come out next year, but fortunately Florand has another Chocolate romance coming out this year – Once a Hero – so that’ll be something to tide me over. Good thing she has two series going.

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