Too Beautiful to Break
The description for Too Beautiful to Break was interesting enough for me to try it without having read any of the previous books in the Romancing the Clarksons series. The buzz online showed excitement since fans have been eagerly waiting for Belmont Clarkson to finally declare himself to Sage Alexander. The couple have been slowly falling in love in the background of the first three stories but without insight into who Belmont and Sage are, the events of the opening chapters in this book are confusing. That confusion changed to frustration as the characters’ fears, insecurities and shortsighted decisions almost destroyed everything they had built together.
Belmont and Sage are near the end of their cross-country trip from San Diego to New York City. The journey began with all the Clarkson siblings traveling together to fulfill their mother’s dying wish that they take the polar plunge at Coney Island on New Year’s Day. Sage joined their party to support her best friend Peggy Clarkson but her presence was also a calming influence on Belmont as he struggled to connect with his estranged sisters and brother. His need for her grew stronger as the other three Clarksons found new loves and hopeful futures in different cities along their route and Belmont barely coped with the emotional upheavals. With the end of their journey in sight, Belmont is torn between his dreams of a future with Sage and doubts that he can be the kind of man she deserves. To Belmont, Sage represents selfless kindness and he can’t bear to taint her pure heart with the traumas in his past.
Sage left California knowing she’d never return. The destiny she’d hoped to escape by fleeing Sibley, Louisiana five years earlier had finally caught up to her and her trip with the Clarksons was a last hurrah before accepting that. Getting close to Belmont was unexpected, but Sage needed him to simply hold her and be close while she sorted through her mixed emotions and guilt about abandoning her family. Sage feels she has to break ties with Belmont before their co-dependent relationship can change from supportive to toxic. Her parents had a similar dependency on each other and even as a child, Sage had come in a distant second to their absorption in each other. About a day’s journey from NYC Sage makes her move, telling Belmont her fears about the nature of their relationship and how she cannot stay with someone who uses her as an emotional crutch rather than seeing her as a separate person.
Leaving Belmont is painful but arriving back in Sibley is a cruel reminder of past traumas. Her town hasn’t changed much and those who had always turned their noses up at her parents’ struggles are still there. The worst offender is Augie Scott, a man who virtually runs Sibley from his position as owner of the salt mine where most of the men in town work. Augie had once been friends with Sage’s parents but when her mother chose her father over Augie he made it his mission to keep them under his thumb. In her desperation to escape Sibley, Sage gave him more hold over her family by borrowing money that could never be repaid except through her father’s labors in the mine. When Sage’s mother wrote that her father was near death from exhaustion Sage’s guilt overwhelmed her. Upon returning to Sibley, Sage approaches Augie to bargain for an early retirement for her father and in exchange Sage will work in the mine for as long as it takes for her father to earn his pension. Her sacrifice will repay her debts to Augie and she’ll be there to care for her parents as she always wished they’d care for her.
Watching Sage walk away pushes Belmont to the brink of self-destruction but her parting words make him think about why she left. Sage is the most important person in Belmont’s life and despite their closeness he never divulged his feelings. Searching through what she left behind, he discovers her destination in Louisiana and abandons his drive to New York to find her. Arriving in Sibley, Belmont is shocked at how the townsfolk sneer at the mere mention of the Alexander family but when he sees the deteriorated condition of Sage’s childhood home he understands why. Meeting her parents makes him realize they are more concerned about themselves then whatever brought their daughter home to them. Belmont learns that Sage is working at the salt mine in her father’s place, doing one of the most dangerous jobs underground. Knowing Sage is in danger sparks Belmont’s anger and when he finds her being rescued after a tunnel collapse it snaps him into action. Confronting Augie Scott – who seems to relish taking Sage down a few pegs in front of the other employees – Belmont offers himself in her place to work the mines. Going below ground means suppressing his deepest fears about being buried alive, but it’s worth it to show Sage he loves her.
The emotional cues in Too Beautiful to Break are a bit challenging to navigate. I was at a loss to understand Sage’s feelings about what she sees as an unhealthy relationship with Belmont, because constantly turning to each other for comfort and support aren’t what I would describe as toxic or self-centered. There is a fine line between an enabling and an empowering relationship that author Tessa Bailey blurs to suit her story. Sage’s parents are definitely two parts of an enabling partnership, where they turn a blind eye to problems like alcohol abuse or depression to satisfy their immediate happiness. However, from the earliest descriptions of their time together I saw Sage and Belmont as empowering for each other. Sage’s emotional state was very fragile even if she was hiding it from her friends and a part of Belmont could sense her need. He was always there to protect her if things were too much in that moment. She did exactly the same for him and that was a breakthrough for a man uncomfortable with his emotions.
With the relationship issues on such shaky ground it’s left to the events in Sibley to move the story forward, which is a mistake. The situation with Augie Scott and his obsession with the Alexander family reeks of melodrama and Sage is hopelessly naïve to put herself back in the man’s debt even if it is to help her father. Belmont makes matters worse by inserting himself into a situation he has doesn’t understand. So many of Sage or Belmont’s missteps in Sibley could have been avoided if they’d been open with each other, as they were when they were traveling to New York; however, they both withdraw into themselves for too long. When Augie plays his trump card and Sage makes a stupid choice to help everyone I had had enough of her stubbornness.
Fans of the Romancing the Clarksons series will probably see Sage and Belmont’s story as one of two damaged souls being healed through their love for each other. Not being a fan, all of the flaws in Too Beautiful to Break were too much. Despite the enticing description on the cover, what’s inside was a disappointing read.