Heartbreaker tells the story of Jess Feldman, part owner with his older brother Owen, of Adventure, Inc., an outdoor adventure company situated in the wilds of Utah. 35-year-old divorcee Lynn Nelson decides to accompany her teenage daughter Rory with a group of her school friends in Utah for a camping trip after reading the company’s brochure, hoping it will renew the bond with her troublesome daughter. But she’s not prepared when Rory, in an effort to wind her mother up, plays up a crush on tour guide Jess Feldman.
Lynn fights off a very feminine appreciation for Jess’s good looks while attempting to get closer to Rory and to smooth their troubled relationship. Rory, who resents the time her workaholic mother spends away from her, is determined to give her mother a hard time and makes it obvious that she never wanted her mother to come along on the trip. She plays up Lynn’s mistrust of Jess by constantly hanging around giving him puppy-dog eyes, much to her mother’s chagrin. Lynn, a high-profile anchorwoman for a TV news program, desperately wants to hang on to her career, but at 35 she is no longer a fresh face on the scene. Having split up with Rory’s father very early on, she always put romance on the back-burner, so when Jess makes a crack that she’s only crabby because she’s been “out of action” for so long, it hits home and increases the tension between the two.
Jess has been fighting his attraction to the ballsy, bitchy Lynn ever since he saw her in high heels at the airport when the group first arrived. He constantly makes digs at her to wind her up, and delights in setting her down a peg or two. Even though Lynn is more inclined to spend time with the older and more sensible Owen Feldman, Jess is protective of Owen’s still-raw feelings after his recent divorce and rubs Lynn up the wrong way when he warns her off his older brother. As the trip continues, Lynn fast realizes she is out of her depth having never ridden horseback before and while getting colder and more miserable, the antagonism escalates between her and Jess, whom she calls a “fake cowboy.”
However, when Lynn and Rory have a serious accident during the course of the trip, it is Jess who comes to their rescue, and Jess who must guide them alone through the mountain wilderness on foot to reach a rescue point. On their way, they encounter a scene of mass ritualistic murder at an old mining-camp, and the action quickly escalates as Jess, Lynn, and Rory run for their lives after being spotted by those responsible. Bruised and exhausted, they forge ahead in terrifying circumstances, desperate to survive the evil murderers who are coming after them. From this point on, Lynn, Jess and Rory must put their personal problems out of their minds and concentrate on staying alive through day-long treks through the wilderness and kayaking amidst a hail of bullets.
We also get glimpses of Theresa, one of the young survivors of the mass murderer, who is hiding out with her six-month old baby brother Elijah in the cellar of the old mining camp where the murders take place. Feeding him on milk powder and dashes of blackberry wine to keep him quiet so he won’t alert the cult leaders to their presence, she is desperate to stay alive and to fulfil her mothers last command that she look after her baby brother.
One of Heartbreaker high points was the very witty dialogue between down-to-earth Jess and control-freak Lynn. I very much enjoyed Lynn’s grumpiness and sarcasm as she got wetter and more saddlesore, and learned how to handle not only a horse but also bitchy PTA-style mothers along for the trip, who seem to be the kind of mothers her daughter wishes she had. It becomes evident early on in the story that Lynn, who smokes and has frequent uncharitable thoughts about their guide, is no Miss Perfect, and neither is Jess afraid to show that he is not some Marlborough Man come to life; he too has weaknesses. Robards doesn’t pull any punches in her gritty dramatization of the Waco-style cult mass-murder that takes place, and the reader feels as if they are living through the horrific experiences of the characters involved, particularly the tribulations of Theresa and Elijah in their efforts to evade capture.
However, Robards’ attempt to create plausible, realistic characters was somewhat spoiled by the often-immature behaviour of Jess (who teases Lynn frequently about her Wonderbra, and refers to her as a “Babe-raham Lincoln”) and Lynn, who has more mood-swings than the entire campus of an all-girl boarding school. The breakneck pace of the plot left little room for a credible romance to develop between the hero and heroine, so when they suddenly go from people with serious emotional baggage and issues to soul mates in the later stages of the book, I found myself blinking in disbelief.
The witty dialogue and fast-paced actions worked to the book’s benefit, but while the suspense portion of Heartbreaker succeeded fairly well, the romantic angle didn’t. There simply wasn’t enough space allotted for Jess and Lynn to develop a meaningful relationship, and I wished for more meaty scenes in which they could thrash out their significant personal differences prior to the storyline’s resolution.