Tall, Dark and Texan
I just love a smart-mouthed heroine who can bring uncharacteristic smiles to the lips of a stony-faced hero, and that is one of the primary draws of Jane Sullivan’s Tall, Dark and Texan. The flip side, of course, is that said heroine is also likely to actually deserve the duct-tape gag the hero considers applying on more than one occasion, which explains why this book didn’t always work as well for me as it might have.
Wendy Jamison is a woman with big dreams and the single- mindedness to see them realized. She has already accomplished a great deal by escaping the small town factory-work existence to which the other ten members of her family have resigned themselves. After testing her wings and acting talent for several years in New York, she’s decided to head for fame and fortune in Hollywood, where an agent is already checking into promising leads for her. Unfortunately, Wendy’s plans take a slight detour when she gets lost late at night, looking for a gas station in Dallas, Texas, and becomes the victim of a car-jacking (I never knew that a car towing a trailer would be considered a viable target). Left standing in the freezing rain with only the clothes on her back, Wendy is soon rescued by an unlikely-looking hero.
Michael Wolfe is a bounty hunter turned reluctant knight when he happens upon the drenched and shivering woman who obviously doesn’t belong in the neighborhood. He stops to question her, then offers her shelter for the night since she has nowhere else to turn. Then, when she says she needs to make some money so that she can start getting back on track to her future, he offers her a chance to earn some cash and use her acting skills, by playing a hooker to lure a bail jumper out of a local bar for him.
Which is where Wendy first demonstrates the need for that judicious application of duct tape. It’s always a bad sign for me when I read something like, “Wendy didn’t remember a time in her life when she’d backed down from a challenge, and she’d be damned if this two-bit hooker was going to break her record.” Those words alerted me to the fact that the cheeky spunk and determination I admired in my heroine were going to combine with the kind of witless stubbornness that makes my eyes roll, and that acts of suicidal idiocy would probably ensue. Fortunately, they’re fewer in number than I feared. And while I can see the need for certain types of conflicts to further ground a character’s personality and move the plot in the desired direction, there are few faults I can tolerate less in my protagonists than TSTL behavior. Especially when other people have to come in and save their sorry butts.
Though Wolfe is mad enough that Wendy disregarded his instructions to send her packing, she manages to secure a reprieve. There’s a “Help Wanted” sign in the window of the Lone Star Bail Bonds office when she goes with Wolfe to retrieve his bounty, and Wendy talks the owner, Wolfe’s good friend Ramona, into hiring her. Ramona sees Wendy as someone who might pull Wolfe out of his perpetual isolation, and between the two women, they convince him to let Wendy continue staying at his place.
Other than the TSTL moments, I really enjoyed this story. It’s intelligently written, and manages to have substance and depth beyond what I typically find in a series romance (and even some single titles, come to think of it). I liked the simple complexity of Wolfe and Wendy: despite their very different life experiences, they both suffer from the “invisibility” that results from being too quickly judged and discounted. Wendy was just one more kid in a large family, which was itself a mere subset of an assembly-line worker community. She had to work to keep from blending into that obscurity, and the desire for her uniqueness to be recognized is what fuels her quest for stardom. Wolfe has worn his bad-ass persona almost since puberty – big, inscrutable, and sporting a knife scar on his face, he’s the type of man whose mere appearance has bad guys checking their firearms and average folk granting him a wide berth. He sought isolation to escape the noisy and violent unpredictability of his home neighborhood, and doesn’t allow himself even to yearn for the comforts of companionship and family that he has no idea how to obtain. I especially liked the fact that he wasn’t ex-military, ex-cop, ex-anything; just an average, if tough, guy who got into a line of work for which he had the requisite physical attributes and aptitude.
I also liked the means by which the author had Wendy bring some domestic comforts to Wolfe. It wasn’t through cleaning his place, washing his clothes or preparing mouth-watering, home-cooked meals. Despite what she claimed in order to gain Wolfe’s permission to stay, Wendy disliked cooking and had always swapped out that particular chore with her siblings so as to avoid it. Instead, a touch of comfort and added warmth came in the form of a thrift store rug and floor lamp – because Wendy worried about Wolfe reading under the inadequate flourescent lights of his warehouse loft. Nice touch, I thought (of course, that thick rug comes in handy later). And I found Wendy’s impudent and sassy way of talking and thinking very entertaining, as when Wolfe comments that his fight-battered cat looks like roadkill in the glow of the new floor lamp, and she quips, “Ah, but now he’s well-lit roadkill.”
Jane Sullivan has an engaging tale in Tall, Dark and Texan and I look forward to more good things from her.