When it comes to series romances, I am enormously fond of those set in the same town. It’s always nice to see couples from earlier books bask in their happy endings while you follow another couple on the way to theirs. Some of my favorite series are Karen Templeton’s books set in Spruce Lake, Michigan and Rachel Lee’s Conard County books. One of the best series going right now is Marilyn Pappano’s Heartbreak Canyon set in a county in Oklahoma. Her latest book in this series, Lawman’s Redemption, broke my long drought when it comes to good series romances. Finally, some characters to root for, and a pretty good story too.
Hallie Madison has come to Heartbreak to take part in her sister Neely’s wedding to sheriff Reese Barnett (see The Sheriff’s Surrender for details). Hallie’s main emotion at the wedding is embarrassment. The night before, she had had wild sex with Brady Marshall, the assistant sheriff who is one of the groomsmen.
While Hallie and Brady are both in their 30s, neither of them are the immature thirty-somethings who populate far too many series titles. Hallie has been divorced 3 times. Brady has been divorced once, and pick-ups are not new to him. Both of them, but Brady in particular, are tortured characters.
Hallie plans to stay in town and oversee the remodeling of Reese’s home while he and Neely are on their honeymoon. She rents a comfortable house for the time she is in town – a house which happens to be near Brady’s. Hallie and Brady both feel an attraction but are uncertain about their relationship – if there even is a relationship. Soon Hallie’s presence is very welcome to Brady. Alessandra, aka Les, aka Lexie, Brady’s daughter, drops in for a visit. The last time he saw her, she was an infant.
I’ll say it right off – I really, really loved Hallie. A homebody at heart who longed for a husband and children, she kept making the wrong choice when it came to the men in her life. And yet, she was not in the least bit bitter. Hallie was wistful and sometimes sad at the way her life had gone, but she had a spark of hope in her heart that simply refused to be extinguished.
Hallie’s relationship with Lexie was one of the best things in the book. Lexie comes to town, all dyed hair, wild clothes, pierced body and tattoos. Her bad attitude can be felt a mile away, but Hallie sees through to the girl who longs for a family to love and to love her. Lexie’s mother does not love her (she doesn’t even like her) so Lexie has come to town to take her chances with her unknown father.
Brady is the ultimate loner. He literally has no one. He has only – and recently at that – tentatively reached out to Reese as a friend, but otherwise he stays to himself until the loneliness gets too much to bear. When it does, he goes out and loses himself in anonymous sex. Brady grew up in a wealthy home, but his parents were sadists. They both beat him and his back is covered with scars. Since his parents were pillars of the community, no one would believe Brady was abused. He married young only to find his wife wanted only his money and was repulsed by his scars. He had loved his baby daughter, but when his wife left him, he did not try to contact her – too much hurt.
I love books where a loner becomes part of a family and a community, and Lawman’s Redemption is one of the best examples of that storyline. The character-driven part of the book is one of the best I have read this year. But it has a plot to provide some conflict and that plot fell a bit flat for me. Lexie’s sleazy stepfather’s hired goons come to town to find something she has. These goons are very obvious in a small town, but they get away again and again. They accost Lexie on a street, they even burn down Brady’s house, but it isn’t until the sleazy stepfather shows up himself that they are caught.
But I can ignore plotting flaws when the characters are this good. I loved them, every one of them, and was pleased to meet many of the characters from earlier books in the series. To make it even better, there are new characters introduced who all but cry out for books of their own. I can see myself spending many more happy hours visiting the good folks in and around Heartbreak Canyon, Oklahoma.