Can’t Buy Me Love
By Molly O’KeefeBook #1 in the Crooked Creek Ranch series
Published June 26th 2012 by Bantam
A girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Tara Jean Sweet knows that opportunity will never knock; she’ll have to seize it. Elderly Texas rancher Lyle Baker has a dying request: He will give Tara Jean a stake in his leather business in exchange for a little family subterfuge. All Tara Jean has to do is play the part of a gold-digging fiancée to lure Lyle’s estranged children home. The mission is soon accomplished.
Now Lyle’s gone—and his ridiculously handsome son, Luc, an ice hockey superstar sidelined by injuries, is the new owner of Crooked Creek ranch. He’s also Tara Jean’s boss. But being so close to sinfully sweet Tara Jean does crazy things to Luc’s priorities, like make him want to pry her deepest secrets from those irresistible lips. But when Tara Jean’s past demands a dirty showdown, will Luc stay and fight?
Tara Jean Sweet made a deal with 90-year old Lyle Baker to help lure his estranged son Luc and daughter Victoria back to his ranch in Texas. Lyle is dying and wants to see his children before his demise as he hasn't had contact with them for years. Luc is facing the possibility of the end of his professional hockey career because of a head injury and Victoria has been living a nightmare the past year because of her husband’s Ponzi scheme that left many financially shattered. The ruse worked as they bought the act, believing Tara Jean to be a gold digger ready to marry their father and abscond with their inheritance.
I was pleased to discover that this was not the light fare the description first led me to believe. These are complicated relationships and the characters have really serious issues to contend with. Tara Jean has a troubled, nasty past and her deal with Lyle provided the opportunity to reinvent herself. On the surface, she seems tough and a bit on the cheap side but it’s just a veneer she's created to protect herself. When Luc gets a glimpse of the real Tara, he becomes captivated and wants more. Their relationship is a tough one and, at times, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to root for them but Tara’s recovery from her self-loathing and Luc’s patience will win you over.
This isn't a story for the faint of heart as these aren't easy people and they have many flaws. The first half of the book was typical of a new relationship, with witty repartee and humorous moments. The second half is grittier as the characters have to contend with hard issues that surface once you’re expected to trust one another. I loved the complexity of the story and how the characters weren’t predictable. Tara and Luc's road to a relationship is unconventional and she's pretty damaged from a sordid past and a prior bad relationship. Luc and Victoria both have a lot of baggage as their father would never come close to winning father of the year awards. They all have redeemable qualities, although Victoria will challenge your sympathies.
There were times when the writing was a bit heavy handed with Southern/Western metaphors, especially when describing Tara's physical reactions to Luc. They sometimes got in the way of the emotional aspects, which was the more compelling part of the story. Otherwise, this is was an intriguing story, complete with humor, tragedy, romance and a bit of suspense. I wasn’t always happy with the journey but I loved its realism, edginess and honesty to the characters who were all well developed. I am looking forward to continuing the series.
(I received an ARC from NetGalley)