>> Wednesday, July 09, 2014
In Molly O’Keefe’s captivating new contemporary romance, a woman with a past and a man without a future struggle to find a place where they belong.
A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock; she’ll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure Lyle’s estranged children home. The mission is soon accomplished.
Now Lyle’s gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He’s also Tara Jean’s boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to Luc’s priorities, like make him want to pry her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean’s past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?
Lyle Baker was a mean, abusive son a bitch, and his two children rightly detest him and want nothing to do with him. Lyle is also great at manipulation, and knowing he's about to die, he does the only thing guaranteed to have them rushing to his deathbed: he hires a trashy young blonde to pretend to be his fiancée.
The son, Luc, an extremely successful hockey player, basically doesn't give a shit. He's got enough on his plate already, what with doctors telling him he's got scarring on his brain that would make any head injury particularly dangerous. They advise that he retires (he's probably not got more than one or two seasons in him, anyway), but he's determined not to. Hockey was what saved him and gave him a sense of self-worth, after all those years growing up with an abusive father and weak mother, and he doesn't know what he'd do if he gave it up. So yeah, his father can marry his blonde bimbo for all Luc cares.
His sister Victoria does care, though. Her husband has recently killed himself after it was discovered he'd bilked large numbers of people out of their savings, and Victoria has been left practically destitute and lost her position in society. She convinces Luc to take the bait as well, and they make their way to Crooked Creek Ranch.
The woman who awaits them there is Tara Jean Sweet. Tara certainly looks the part of the gold-digger, with her big hair and short skirts, and it's an accusation she can't quite deny. For many years, she and her boyfriend used her charms to convince old men in nursing homes to give her money, until she wasn't able to justify this to herself any longer. This time, though, it's a business deal. Tara has a talent for fashion design, and she was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of Lyle's leather business. She's playing the gold-digger in exchange for a large stake in the business. She doesn't really have a problem with this deal: she's earned the chunk of the business, plus, Lyle has been the first person ever to treat her well and value her talents. She relishes the thought of screwing around with his ungrateful children, who want his money but won't even come visit.
When all these people come together in the Crooked Creek Ranch, there's a hell of a lot of pain and anger and angst, not to mention attraction and surprise, when they start to know each other better.
This is very much a character-driven book. There's a small element of an external plot, to do with Tara's old boyfriend, but that was tangential. It's all about the characters here, and I really liked what O'Keefe did with them. Both Luc and Tara are much more than what they seem on the surface, but at the same time, I liked that what was on the surface was also part of who they were. She's more than just the big-haired girl from the trailer park, but she is the big-haired girl from the trailer park, and that is part of her identity. He's more than the athlete with anger-control issues, but he is that, too. I often didn't like them, but I always understood them. I totally got Tara's need for security, Luc's anger, even his determination to take very stupid risks just to keep playing. They felt real and they felt nuanced. I cared about what would happen to them.
The secondary characters were just as subtly done. Lyle was an abusive parent, but he was also very good to Tara (and those conflicting perceptions add conflict to their relationship). Victoria is weak and spoiled and insecure, willing to use her child as a bargaining chip, but her actions closer to the end make it clear there's more to her as well. Her book is the next one in the series, and I couldn't imagine wanting to read it when we first met here here. After finishing this, I'll be definitely picking that up.
MY GRADE: A B+.