Desert Isle Keeper
Tyler O'Neill's Redemption
NOTE: Originally a Harlequin SuperRomance, this book has been reissued by the author as The Gambler.
There are about a hundred romances each year about a bad girl who returns to the small town where she grew up and gets entangled with the local sheriff – but very few where the bad boy returns to get involved with the female chief of police. Which is why, as soon as I had read the synopsis of Tyler O’Neill’s Redemption, the second volume in Molly O’Keefe’s The Notorious O’Neills series, I knew I wanted to review it.
Tyler O’Neill left Bonne Terre, Louisiana, ten years ago and has since had a highly successful career as a professional poker player in Las Vegas. Now that both his grandmother and sister each have left on a trip, the old family home stands empty and Tyler has returned to look after it for a couple of weeks. On his first night back, even before getting to the house, he joins a poker game, wins, is accused of cheating (undeservedly), and beaten up. On his way home he is picked up by Juliette Tremblant, with whom he had a scorching affair just before he left, and who is now Bonne Terre’s new police chief. As he left her without a word, Juliette is still deeply angry with Tyler, and matters are further complicated because at the old house, he is met by his father Richard, a crook and conman. Seven years ago Richard was involved in a jewelry theft, and his estranged wife – Tyler’s mother – might have hidden two valuable gems in the family home. Now Richard wants to find them, and Tyler, who feels uneasy loyalty for his father, needs to keep his presence secret.
To complicate matters further, a troubled teenager tries to steal Tyler’s car that night, and Juliette, who had been bending the rules quite a bit to keep the youngster out of the juvenile delinquency system, now needs to ask Tyler’s help, first for him not to press charges, and then to supervise young Miguel during some work the latter must do in compensation for the attempted car theft. Tyler and Juliette meet frequently, and soon recognize that the old attraction is still there, as forceful as ever.
When I started the novel, I thought the hindrances to this couple’s HEA would be on the usual lines of “he left without a word and now I can’t forgive/trust him” and “I’m a gambler and son to criminals, so I’m not good enough for her”. Slowly, to my great delight, I understood there was far more here. The difficulties Tyler and Juliette experience are deeply rooted in their backgrounds and personalities, as policewoman and daughter of a former chief on the one hand, often thinking to rigidly in terms of black and white however compassionate she may be, and as the son of conmen and drifters on the other hand, too much used to bluffing and lying his way out of any tricky situation. Seeing them come together, slowly comprehending their own and the other’s character, was just beautiful.
What else did I like besides this slow double journey to discovery? I loved several of the minor characters, especially troubled teenager Miguel and tough social worker Nora. I was impressed by the way the fathers, stern Jasper and shifty Richard, were handled. I loved the role of music and the hot, sultry atmosphere. I would also mention that this is a refreshing interracial romance, as Tyler is white and Juliette seems to be biracial – with no one making an issue of it whatsoever.
It is always lovely to discover a romance that combines interesting, believable characters with a wholly character-driven plot and an immensely charming setting. I had a wonderful time reading Tyler O’Neill’s Redemption, and can’t recommend it highly enough. It stands alone well, but if you want to read the whole series anyway, I recommend you begin with The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill, as the second volume includes a number of spoilers for the first. I am off now to order Scandal and Carter O’Neill, the third volume, and am delighted to have found a new author to watch!