Under the Lights
Do you like small town romances set in towns that feel like they actually could exist? If so, you should try reading Shannon Stacey if you haven’t discovered her already.
When I talk about small towns that feel real, the setup of this book hints at it. Stewart Mills is not an idyllic little town with financially secure residents shopping in cute, trendy businesses who seemingly do not need to worry about money or deal with commuting to larger cities. In fact, we learn right away that this small New England town has fallen on hard times and may need to cut one of its social staples, the high school football team, if enough money cannot be raised.
Local police officer Kelly McDonnell, the coach’s daughter, has been tasked with convincing members of Stewart Mills’ old championship team to come home and play in an exhibition match against the current team. Organizers hope that proceeds will be enough to keep the team going for another year. Among the men Kelly calls is her unrequited high school crush, and yes, the sparks do start to fly as soon as he comes to town.
Chase Sanders left Stewart Mills after graduation, but he decides to come back and play in the fundraiser for several reasons. First of all, he had a tough time as a teenager and both the team and his coach’s house were refuges for hum. In addition, his construction business has faltered in the tough economy, his partner stole what little bit of money remained, and his girlfriend left him. Since he doesn’t have much going for him at the moment, what can he lose by going to Stewart Mills for a few days?
He and Kelly get thrown together right away as Chase runs the new stop sign in town. Kelly’s old attraction to Chase starts to come back, only this time it looks like it might be returned. A fun development but there are definitely complications. For Chase, the coach is like the father he never really had so getting romantically involved with his daughter poses problems – particularly if all he can offer if a fun fling. The fact that Chase has a failed business and few prospects at the moment doesn’t exactly help the situation.
What life Chase has is currently located in New Jersey. However, Stewart Mills is Kelly’s life and she has no intention of leaving. She’s not tied to home in the treacly, heavily sentimentalized way that one sees in some novels. She knows her town has problems, but she loves the town and its people, even as she acknowledges their problems. As a police officer, it’s obvious that she also feels deeply responsible for her community.
These issues create some realistic background tension in the romance. I actually liked that Chase was not the usual semi-perfect hero who has everything in the world going his way. People who have made mistakes or who are just in generally craptastic circumstances can still have something to give, and Stacey does a good job of showing that with her hero. In addition,there is no easy way for either main character to uproot and move, so deciding to stay together and figuring out where they will live necessarily involves some teamwork and sacrifice. At times, I felt like some of this process was a bit rushed and abrupt, but the author certainly makes up for it with a truly romantic ending.
As I mentioned above, parts of the story do feel rushed and while I liked see the town pull together, I did sometimes wonder how a town in such dire straits managed to raise sponsorships, pay for tickets and so on for the exhibition game. Still, aside from those quibbles, I did generally enjoy Under the Lights. The mix of small-town warmth with some real and gritty issues made this a solid read. It’s not quite the Kowalskis – or Boston Fire – but still not a bad way to spend the weekend.