First Comes Love
What a way to start off the New Year! Although technically I read this in 2001, since it’s a 2002 book, I’m counting this as my first winner of 2002. Christie Ridgway writes a great tale of overcoming expectations and reputations and finding a perfect match in First Comes Love.
Kitty Wilder plays the madam of a bordello in the living history district of her home town, Hot Water. Kitty, in fact, is a direct descendant of the original madam of the bordello, The Burning Rose. Kitty is also an aberration in her family. The Wilder women are all proud to be, well, wild, but all Kitty wants is a traditional family life with kids and a minivan. She’s decided this will be her last summer living in Hot Water, but then Dylan Matthews comes back to town to see her and suddenly Kitty is having to rethink her plans.
Until two days before he came back, he hadn’t known he and Kitty were married. Eight years earlier the two had “married” as a prank in the town’s Heritage Day celebration. A local custom let her make the marriage legal, which Kitty did, even though she never informed him of the fact. Now Kitty is “blackmailing” Dylan into staying and participating in the town’s historical reenactments. Instead of a simple divorce, they begin to get to know each other again and suddenly Dylan isn’t so sure divorce is the right thing to do.
Kitty’s quite a likable character. She’s got a good heart and her desire for a comfortable family life is understandable. Kitty places a lot of stock, sometimes too much, in her family’s past. Because her ancestors were known for their less respectable activities and their independence from men, Kitty is convinced that that is all people will ever see about her and her family. What she doesn’t see is that the citizens of Hot Water all respect her. Raised by her aunt because her mother was too young and immature to raise her, Kitty also has to deal with the return of the mother she hardly knows and is ashamed of. She’s also got a great sense of humor, and the way she gets a group of people to leave Dylan alone is priceless.
Dylan Matthews is a hotshot FBI agent and something of a local celebrity. Dylan still feels horrible guilt over an incident in which he failed to save a relative’s wife. Coming back to Hot Water reminds him of his failure, and he just wants to leave as fast as possible. But first he needs to find out why Kitty didn’t tell him they were married, why she made their play marriage real, and oh yes, he has to get a divorce. Dylan seems to start off as a bad boy, but it’s just a façade. He’s definitely got a little edge, but he’s also very sweet to Kitty. His relationship with his father is also tainted by his guilt over the death of the woman and gives him yet another incident to work through.
The relationship between Kitty and Dylan is hot but sweet. He understands her. Case in point, when she’s feeling down one day, he takes her to a car lot to look at minivans. He knows what will cheer her up. The two have chemistry in spades, and added to that, they have several things in common – including their real love for their hometown – even though neither wants to admit it, and their feelings of being outsiders. Their ancestral history even comes into play here because the Matthews family were always on the side of the law, and Kitty again thinks that people wouldn’t accept a Wilder and a Matthews together. Kitty and Dylan both have things to teach the other. Their relationship is a winner, and those who have read Ridgway before knows she loves to play around with “bad reps.”
Kitty’s mother, Samantha, and Dylan’s father, D.B., make interesting secondary characters. The bad girl/good boy theme is echoed in their relationship as well. Samantha actually does have a past that could get in the way of her happiness with D.B., and as soon as she comes back to town rumors begin to fly about her. Kitty’s aunt also adds a nice touch.
Ridgway adds nice touches of humor and symbolism in her story. Her use of minivans as Kitty’s fantasy car perfectly illustrates what Kitty’s deepest desire is, but having her drive a powder blue old thunderbird also illustrates her “Wilder” side.
There’s really little to dislike here. If Kitty had placed a little less importance on her family’s past, it would have been perfect, but that is a very minor problem. Ridgway has another winner in First Comes Love.