I tend to shy away from small town romances. Maybe it’s that no one seems to wear cute clothes. Maybe it’s the all-too-common cloying sweetness. Or maybe it’s just that occupations are limited to sheriff, waitress, and quirky bookstore owner. Or perhaps it’s just that I’m sure they’d all be happier with access to a decent coffee place. At any rate, I’m glad I read Holly Lane, because I found myself liking it quite a lot, and even enjoying the small town atmosphere (at least a little).
Sue Ann Simpkins feels sucker-punched when her husband Jeff tells her he doesn’t love her anymore. She’s been with him since high school, and built her whole life around him and their daughter, Sophie. Six months later, she’s still adjusting. Hew lawyer tells her Jeff is planning to withdraw spousal support so he and his new wife (who he’s parading all over town) can have children. Sue Ann packs up her Thanksgiving leftovers and heads up to a lake cabin – only to find it already occupied by her ex’s best friend, Adam Becker. (Aside: What I’ve learned from romance novels is that if you are ever double-booked into a hotel or cabin, rejoice! Your odds of having sex with a hot guy approach 100%. Yay!) Of course, there’s a snowstorm. Of course, no one can go anywhere. Of course, Sue Ann and Adam have sex. Only there’s nothing trite about it; this sex scene is easily one of the most poignant I’ve read in years, and it’s hot too.
The morning after is a little awkward. Sue Ann isn’t really ready for a relationship, and at any rate is not sure that Adam can be trusted. Not only is he Jeff’s best friend; she finds out later that Jeff has asked Adam to testify in court on his behalf. So it seems like odds are stacked against a relationship. Sue Ann has money problems, needs to find another source of income, is thinking of (maybe) selling her house, and wants to make a great Christmas for Sophie. Matters become even more complicated when Sophie asks Santa for a real reindeer. Santa happens to be Adam in a Santa suit, and he can’t quite manage to break her heart and tell her no.
Adam has his own issues. He too is divorced, and his twin sons are spending the whole month of December with his in-laws in Colorado. The whole situation has him down, and he finds himself snapping at people who really don’t deserve it. Sue Ann feels sure this isn’t really the right time or atmosphere for a romance…or is it? Cookies, hot chocolate, Christmas lights, and a little sex – there just might be magic in the air.
The town of Destiny is a little cutesy, and everyone does seem to know everyone. There is indeed a quirky bookstore owner who is Sue Ann’s friend. There are also town events that everyone and their dog goes to. And it must be admitted: Sue Ann at one point wears a Christmas-themed turtleneck. However, my tolerance for cutesy rises markedly at this time of year. If the ending was a little pat, I was okay with it.
Mostly I found that this book worked because Sue and and Adam seem like real people having a real romance. They had the type of believable problems and conflicts you might see anywhere. Adam’s moodiness and Sue Ann’s skittishness both make perfect sense, and both have to be resolved before their romance can go forward.
Even if nothing else in Holly Lane worked, in my opinion the first love scene in the cabin on the lake would be worth the price of admission. Sue Ann has never slept with anyone but Jeff before. Her encounter with Adam comes almost out of nowhere. Toni Blake captures the nervousness, sexiness, and poignancy of their rendezvous in a way that’s completely pitch perfect.
This book is part of the Destiny series. I haven’t read any of the others, but I didn’t feel that this hindered my enjoyment of Holly Lane at all. There is definitely some revisiting of past characters, including a recent hero and heroine now together and in conflict over whether to have a baby. I had no trouble figuring out back story, and I certainly enjoyed it enough to give some of the others a try – holiday turtlenecks notwithstanding.