Title: Can’t Buy Me Love
Author: Molly O’Keefe
May Contain Spoilers
In Molly O’Keefe’s captivating new contemporary romance, a woman with a past and a man without a future struggle to find a place where they belong.
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?
Once I started reading Can’t Buy Me Love, I realized that it was completely different from what I was expecting. From the cover shot, I thought that this would be a light, flirty romance with a lot of humor. It wasn’t. Is that a bad thing? Nope! This is a sizzling love story about two very flawed people who are desperately looking for a place to fit in and find the happiness denied to them. Both have been molded and shaped by their unhappy pasts, and they are both still haunted by mistakes they have made in their attempt to find meaning and acceptance. Luc was abused by his demanding father, and even his status as a star hockey player can’t dim the disappointment that eats at him because of his father’s lack of regard for him. Tara is running from her painful past, from the nightmare of being used by her mother’s boyfriends and by the terrible decisions that she has made before touching down at Crooked Creek ranch. Both of them have huge dreams for the future, but they don’t trust enough in themselves to believe that they’ll eventually find some inner peace of mind. I loved both Luc and Tara, and hoped that they would overcome their hang-ups long enough to find each other.
When we are first introduced to Tara, she is working for Luc’s terminally ill father, Lyle. Lyle has concocted a sure-fire scheme to get Luc back to the family’s Texas ranch – he has announced that he and the much younger Tara are engaged and will soon be wed. While Luc doesn’t give a fig about Lyle’s millions, his half-sister, Victoria, does. Reeling from the revelation that her husband was running a Ponzi scheme, and still shocked by his suicide, penniless Victoria has only one thought in mind – saving her inheritance from Tara’s greedy clutches. Once the flock re-converges at the ranch, all of their ugly childhood memories start crawling out of the woodwork, leaving them raw and on edge. To make matters worse for Luc, he has been warned by his doctor to quit hockey while he still has a functioning brain. One more concussion and more than his career will be over.
I loved Luc and Tara and their struggle to put their pasts into perspective. Luc has been running from his father’s disapproval since he was a teen, and nothing that he has accomplished has soothed his battered self-esteem. He is a hockey superstar, but being back on the ranch rips all of his confidence away, leaving him frustrated, a seething rage roiling under the surface of his control. He longs to confront his father, to put him in his place. He wants tell him what a crap father he was and finally make him look at Luc and see him as his equal. Instead, his brain is one more hit away from turning into a malfunctioning pile of goo, Lyle has exited his life for good, and Tara just keeps getting under his skin. I found Luc interesting because there are a few times that he comes awfully close to totally losing control of his temper, which is something he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself for.
Tara has made some terrible, terrible decisions in her life, and when her shady past finally catches up with her, I was afraid that she was going to try to keep everything a secret and not ask Luc for help. When it seemed as though that was exactly was she was going to do, I felt like pulling my hair out. Thankfully, her decision to be self-reliant quickly crumbles, which made me like her better. A victim of manipulation herself, she is trying to run as far away from her former life of cons and deception as fast as she can. Always forced to be self-reliant, I wanted her to let her guard down and let Luc take care of her, to learn to trust him so that she could finally move beyond her unhappy past.
Now, one character that I have a love-hate relationship with is Luc’s half-sister, Victoria. The child of Lyle’s mistress, Victoria was also treated harshly by Lyle when she was a child. After her marriage blows up in her face, and her cushy life in New York dissolves, Victoria wants only one thing – her inheritance. I didn’t like Victoria because the only thing that really mattered to her was money, and she expected to get it without working for it. She does grow up by the end of the book, sort of, but I don’t know if I am ready to put her sniveling and whining behind her. Life isn’t fair, and Victoria’s entitlement attitude grated on my nerves. Ugh!
Even though Can’t Buy Me Love was completely different from what I expected, the story clicked for me. I liked the hero and heroine, and was convinced that they were meant to be together. Their courtship quickly burns out of control, despite their best attempts to ignore the attraction that rages between them. By the end of the book, I believed that there could be no other partner for either of them, and their life experiences had given them the strength to stand together. What else made me happy? Seeing that Molly O’Keefe has an extensive backlist that is screaming to be read.
Grade: B+, leaning towards A-
Review copy provided by author