The Last Honest Woman, by Nora Roberts (O'Hurleys! #1)

>> Monday, November 06, 2006

jmc's post about reading older Nora Roberts category romances had me picking up a series called The O'Hurleys! (not my !... that's the actual title of the series: "The O'Hurleys!"), a series I remembered nothing about.

I had the impression I'd bought it and never got to it, but the first one, The Last Honest Woman, is marked down in one of the very early versions of my spreadsheet as read back in 2000. I rated it a B, too.

When Dylan Crosby came to grill Abigail O'Hurley Rockwell about her infamous late husband, he expected cool white mink, icy diamonds. What he got was dusty dungarees and womanly warmth. Why would socialite Abby pretend to be a hardworking country mom? Worse, why did he believe her loving lies?
Well, whether I read it or not, I remembered not a word of it. And I liked it a bit less than I did in 2000. Maybe back then everything felt newer and fresher, but reading it now, a good part of the plot struck me as tired and dated. Still, it's a Nora Roberts, after all, and so there are also plenty of very nice bits. A B-.

In essence, this is the very old-fashioned story 90% of category romance and many single titles used to be about: man who was hurt by an ex who was a money-hungry mercenary/was a heartless career woman/didn't want children/all the the above, meets a woman he thinks is the same as his ex, and is seduced by her innocence and goodness.

Abby Rockwell is one of the O'Hurley triplets, daughters of itinerant entertainers Frank and Molly O'Hurley. When she was just 18, superstar racecar driver Chuck Rockwell fell madly in love with her and swept her off her feet. She did the glamourous racing circuit with him for a while, but when her first child was born she settled in Virginia, while her husband continued racing, and reportedly became quite a playboy. Until he died, a few years before the start of the book, that is.

Dylan Crosby is a writer of authorized celebrity bios, and when Abby Rockwell finally gives her permission and promises her cooperation for a biography of her husband, he's the man chosen by the publishers to write it. Having already done plenty of preliminary investigation, Dylan goes to Virginia to spend a few weeks working with Abby with some very set ideas in his mind. He expects a spoiled, pampered woman, one who married her husband for money and then abandoned him and left him alone in the circuit. Dylan has an image of Abby stuck in his mind, a photo of her in Monte Carlo wearing mink and diamonds, and that's who he's expecting to find.

He gets a surprise when he gets to Abby's ranch. Rather than pretty land and a huge house, with plenty of servants and maybe a couple of horses, he finds a homey but modest house, what seems to be a working horse ranch and no servants at all. The working ranch seems to be worked mainly by Abby, who, far from the picture of luxury Dylan expected, seems to be a hardworking and excellent mother. Dylan is at first convinced that this is just a facade, one planned to make him sympathetic to Abby and lull him into writing her into a saint, but he soon begins to realize that the picture in his mind might not exactly correspond to the truth.

It all develops in exactly the way anyone who read series romance in the 80s would expect it to develop. Dylan is a judgemental asshole at first and keeps being insulted. Self-sacrificing Abby takes it and takes it and takes it, and for a long while refuses to reveal just what a total bastard her husband was. When the truth comes out about Abby's marriage and about just how broke she is, despite her husband family's millions, Dylan feels suitably chastised.

But... this is Nora Roberts, so she makes even this tedious plot better than average. In between the dreary plot, there are many funny, sweet and emotional moments. What I loved best here was Abby and her kids. Abby isn't as much of a martyr as most authors would have made her. I especially appreciated that her reasons for wanting Chuck's worst abuses secret made sense and weren't just about preserving the name of someone who didn't deserve it. The scene in which Dylan finds out about this put a knot in my stomach (which is exactly what I mean when I say the many wonderful moments make up for the boring plot).

Oh, and the kids! I usually cannot stand children in romance novels, and at best just tolerate them, but these two? Adorable, and in a really good way. I wanted to hug them and kiss them. So weird!


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