Tall, Dark and Texan
I hadn’t read a Harlequin Temptation in a long time, but when I saw this one was by Jane Sullivan, I bought it since I enjoyed the two other books she has written for the line, as well as the single title contemporaries she writes as Jane Graves. This was the first book I read in 2004 and it was a good one. I hope it’s a forecast of good reading in the future.
Wendy Jamison has eight brothers and sisters and comes from a small town. Unlike her siblings, she does not want to spend her life there working in the chewing gum factory. When she acted in a high school play, Wendy knew what she wanted to do, so after graduation she moved to New York. After several years in off-Broadway companies learning her trade, she discovers the slow pace of live acting is not for her, so she hired an agent and set her sights on Los Angeles, the movies, television, and the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
While driving to Los Angeles with all her possessions and money in her car, Wendy runs into bad weather in Dallas. She is carjacked and left by the side of the road in a sleetstorm in a bad neighborhood. Things are not looking very good, when up comes a man on a motorcycle. He looks big and dangerous, but he seems helpful, so she accepts his offer of assistance, since the alternative is to freeze or be assaulted by some of the unsavory characters lurking about.
The man’s name is Michael Wolfe and he is a bounty hunter for a bail agency. Wolfe takes Wendy to his loft to dry out, clean up, and get a night’s rest. The next day she gets a job as an office assistant in the bail-bond agency where he works. Wendy plans to earn enough money to get to Los Angeles and pursue her dream and she wants nothing to get in her way. But there is an undeniable chemistry between her and Wolfe. What will happen when it’s time for her to move on?
This is a character-driven story with enough plot to get it started and nudge it along. Readers who are tired of the “small town=good, big city=evil” scenario that is so common in series romance will like this book very much, since it does not idealize the small town. While she loves her family, Wendy has no intention of staying put. She wants fame and fortune. She wants to be noticed and to be someone other than an anonymous cog in a machine. Wendy is outgoing and slightly outrageous, and she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body. She is no haughty diva, though: she has a kind heart and caring nature which shows when she nurses Wolfe through a bout of the flu right after he has acted like a jerk.
Wolfe is a treat for readers who like tortured heroes. He grew up with his mother and brother in a neighborhood that deteriorated as they got older. Wolfe was pressured to join a gang who wanted him because he was big and strong. His refusal got him a knife slash to the face. When his brother was wounded in a drive-by shooting, Wolfe picked up the shooter and delivered him to the police. Ever since then he has been a bounty hunter. Wolfe is a loner, thinking himself too big and ugly to be acceptable in society. After he rescues Wendy, he finds she has brought light and happiness to his lonely existence, but she has her dreams and he just knows he is not part of them.
The characters in Tall, Dark and Texan are a real pair of opposites. Wendy is outgoing, while Wolfe is taciturn. He is a loner and she isn’t the least bit afraid to throw herself into any situation at all. At times Wendy verged on being a bit foolhardy, but she never went into TSTL territory. I’ve read some romances where a character undergoes such a total transformation that it’s hard to swallow, but this is not the case with Wolfe. He doesn’t all of a sudden change from loner to party animal, but he does unbend and join the rest of the world.
All in all, this is a book I would hold up as an great example of what a series romance ought to be: good characters with real attraction between them, delightful dialogue, and a story that moves along at a nice clip. Thank you, Jane Sullivan! This one is going right to my comfort-read shelf.