Hard Lovin' Man
Last year I discovered Lorraine Heath’s books and she immediately went on my auto-buy list. She’s written some of my favorite stories, so when I started to hear a lot positive buzz for Hard Lovin’ Man I really looked forward to reading it. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations, let alone the buzz. This book failed for me on a couple of levels.
The story opens when Jack Morgan, chief of police in Hopeful, Texas, hauls Madison Gardner in for underage drinking and calls her big sister, Kelley Spencer. Jack and Kelley are shocked to see one another. Nine years earlier both had left Hopeful after a brief relationship. Jack had been a nineteen year old high school senior in Kelley’s first English class as teacher. During the course of the year they started to fall for each other and spent one glorious night together after graduation. Unfortunately a prom night mistake came back to haunt Jack, and Kelley urged him to marry the pregnant girl. He joined the army to support his new family and she went back to Dallas to be close to her parents and her little sister. Neither thought they’d be back in Hopeful and available for a second chance at the relationship they’d nearly started so many years ago.
The course of true love never does run smooth. Kelley has many issues, first trying to reign in her sixteen year old sister. The girl went wild after their parents died in a drunk driving accident over a year ago, so Kelley moved her from Dallas to tiny Hopeful, hoping small town life would keep her out of trouble. No such luck. The attempts at under-age drinking were only the tip of the iceberg. Madison wants to go back to Dallas, to be with her friends, and will do anything to get there – including ruining Kelley and Jack’s chance at happiness. But Kelley may destroy the relationship herself; she has a secret from her past that has influenced her decisions too heavily, especially her reaction nine years ago to the news that Jack might have gotten a fellow classmate pregnant. Her reaction changed his life forever and kept them apart for nine years. If he finds out, he may not forgive her.
Before I get into why this book failed for me as reader, let me say what I liked about it. I liked Jack Morgan. He’s a good hero. He rose above his past as a neglected child and average hoodlum to make something of himself. He’s a devoted father to his son, Jason, and a reliable friend. He’s patient with Kelley and Madison, going out his way to help them with things like moving into a new house, and introduces Madison to friends her own age. The only problem with Jack is that he was too good for Kelley; I spent the entire book wondering why he bent over backwards for her. He deserved a better heroine, and had more chemistry with his next door neighbor, Serena.
Kelley is one of the worst heroines I’ve run across in a while. Yes, she has issues from something that happened to her when she was fifteen that influences how she tries to raise her sister, and how she influences Jack’s life when she basically forces him to marry the girl who accuses him of fathering her child. Unfortunately both are abuses of Kelley’s authority. She holds on so tightly to Madison, makes unilateral decisions about her life, and is so inconsistent in her behavior towards the girl that it’s little wonder Madison lashes out. As for her relationship with Jack, no matter how close they were in age she should never have gotten involved with him nine years ago; he was her student. She harps on the fact she waited until he graduated from high school to have sex, but she should never ever have given him any hope of a relationship or manipulated his feelings for her, even if it was to get him to do well in school. She took things even further when she used those feelings to get him to marry someone else. For her then to feel hurt and abandoned over it was simply childish. She spends the entire book whining and pushing Jack away. I could’ve forgiven her, almost. But towards the end, after Jack goes above and beyond to help Madison (who nearly ruins his relationship with his own son), Kelley pushes him away in a childish fit of self-pity. That’s when the book crossed into wall-banger territory.
Other than there being absolutely zero chemistry between the hero and the heroine, and the heroine being a twit in my opinion, the book also failed for me as a contemporary romance. Heath tried too hard to remind the reader this wasn’t a historical. Ninety percent of the pop culture references and foul language didn’t fit the flow of the story, instead each reference to a current movie or character or f-word felt forced, like Heath was working it in solely remind the reader it was the 21st century. The story had enough of a contemporary feel; it didn’t need the out of place references.
I know many people enjoyed this book more than I did, and I’m glad for them. I just couldn’t get past the ethical issues of Kelley hooking up with a student and then manipulating his feelings to get him to “do the right thing” by Jason’s mother. Then to have her whine through the entire book – instead of being proactive and trying to make changes – was too much. Jack deserved a better heroine, and I as a reader deserved a better book for my money.