The Marine is a better book than I’ve come to expect from the Harlequin American Romance line, yet still not as good as I’d hoped when I bought it. I can’t totally recommend it, but the likable characters and strong conflict may make it worth a look.
This is the latest installment in a series called The Lost Millionaires. Marcus McCoy, heir to a massive retail empire, apparently fathered four sons with four different women. Marcus wasn’t exactly an upstanding guy, and rather than take responsibility for the children he fathered, he paid off their mothers to keep quiet. But in his will he finally acknowledged his four sons, and after his sudden death, his father unleashed a team of lawyers and private investigators to find his lost grandsons.
U.S. Marine Rick Branigan is one of those heirs. It’s attorney Lynn Hayes’s responsibility to bring him back to the family homestead in Missouri in time for his grandfather’s 75th birthday celebration. Lynn hopes that if she succeeds at this mission, it will cement her future at McCoy Enterprises. But Major Branigan isn’t going to make it easy for her. Shortly before her arrival, Rick was charged with drunk driving for an accident that left a mother of two with severe injuries. Rick admitted to the police that he was driving his truck the night of the accident, but hasn’t said anything in his defense since. He stands to lose his military career and faces serious jail time if convicted.
Of course, Rick isn’t guilty. He’s taking the fall for a fellow Marine and lifelong friend whose wife is eight months pregnant. Rick’s sense of honor requires him to do what he can to save his friend, especially since the other man saved his life in combat. Then Lynn comes along and is determined to fight the charges in a way he’s not. Equally determined to fall on his sword, Rick does everything he can to keep her from finding out the truth and using it to help him.
I really liked this conflict, much more than I might have predicted going into the book. It’s easy to say that Rick’s actions are misguided, especially when it’s obvious his friend is unworthy of his sacrifice, but the author manages to sell it. Though it may not work for every reader, I had to respect his strong sense of duty and his conviction that he was doing what he needed to for someone who saved his life and who, under the circumstances, could not afford to go to jail. I found that kind of loyalty and honor appealing, and it made me like Rick more for it. At the same time Rick’s resolve to not reveal what really happened that night clashes with Lynn’s determination to get him out of the mess he’s found himself in. It’s a juicy conflict, the kind that didn’t make me dislike either of them because I could see where they both were coming from. As a result, the story had a little more spark than I’ve found in much of my series romance reading lately, leading to some dramatic scenes.
The book’s main weakness is the usual one for series romances: lack of development. Rick and Lynn are both likable characters and the author manages to hit some effective emotional notes in their backstories. In the end, though, it feels like she’s barely scratched the surface of their characters, with a lot left unexplored. There’s enough there to sympathize with them, but not nearly enough to really know them. Vale has a smooth, engaging style and she delivers some keenly felt moments. At the same time, this is a mostly shallow read. The romance happens quickly and feels perfunctory. The way the characters fell in love seemed more like they were following the usual romance novel path than because it was all that believable. I believed they had some genuine affection for each other in the end, but I was skeptical if they really knew each other well enough for it to be love.
The last few months American Romance has been ending its books twenty pages or so early and using those pages for previews of the next months’ titles. This book, instead of being the standard 250, ends on page 230 (and since the last chapter is taken up with business related to the overall miniseries, this particular story ends a dozen pages before that). It could have used those twenty pages. What’s here is decent enough, but this is yet another series romance where that familiar refrain applies: It needed to be longer.