Dear Ms. Lennox,
Jayne and I are both fans of your books, but your Medicals hold a special appeal for me. You manage to combine down-to-earth characters, plenty of medical context, and unusual settings, and this book is no exception. Despite the cheesy (but accurate) title and the fact that the Runaway Heiress is indeed both a runaway and an heiress, the hero and heroine of this novel are immensely appealing and somewhat unusual characters.
The story opens with a flourish: Riley Chase, doctor and member of the New South Wales North Coast Flight-Aid team, is searching through the night for a tourist who swam out to sea and is in danger of drowning, possibly as the result of a suicide attempt. This tourist is Pippa Fotheringham, who is not only not trying to commit suicide, but is determined to hang on and be found:
The cold was bone-numbing. She was past exhaustion, and there was only one thing holding her up.
‘Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham, heiress to the Fotheringham Fast Food fortune, suicides after jilting.’
She would not give Roger the satisfaction of that headline.
This opening sets the tone of the novel, which is in turns lighthearted and quite serious. There are few authors who are able to pull of the balance between these two as well as you do, and you need all your skill for this plot. Riley is a single, attractive, and very deliberately unattached man in his late thirties who has just discovered that he has a eighteen-year-old daughter from a college fling in England. Pippa is an heiress who has turned her back on her family’s business to practice as a nurse-midwife. She gave in to her parents’ demands to make an acceptable marriage and was finally set to wed a long-time friend and executive in the family business. When she found out he was cheating on her (most recently with one of her bridesmaids), she ditched him at the altar and flew to Australia to spend her erstwhile honeymoon in the already-paid-for suite.
Pippa is rescued from the sea and taken to the local hospital, where she befriends the patients and staff and makes herself part of the community. She seizes on the offer to join the hospital as a member of one of the Flight Aid crews, and of course she winds up on Riley’s team. Before she has had time to settle in, Riley’s daughter shows up, complicating Riley’s life (and by extension Pippa’s) even further.
There are four storylines woven through this book: Pippa and Riley’s growing attraction and romance; Riley’s new relationship with his daughter, Lucy; Pippa’s integration into the community; and the extended family created by Pippa, Riley, Lucy, and the teenage Amy, whose baby Pippa helped to deliver while recuperating in hospital. This is a lot of material to juggle in a category-length novel, but you mostly pull it off. Amy is a teenage mother from the Outback who is trying to build a life that will let her take care of her baby and her younger siblings; you do a wonderful job of sketching her background and challenges without falling into easy stereotypes. The extended family setup strains credulity a bit, but I was able to suspend disbelief.
The attraction between Riley and Pippa falls into the classic opposites-attract genre, but again, you infuse it with enough individuality to make it interesting. Riley associates Pippa with the wealthy, uncaring mother of his daughter. But Pippa refuses to be pigeonholed like that, even though she understands why he does it:
If she could come to this man on his terms…
But there was no way she could. Her money was there, like it or not. She would help Joyce, and she would help other communities, even if it meant Riley looked at her the way he was looking at her now.
‘I’m not my money, Riley,’ she said softly. ‘That’s not me. I’m who you pulled out of the water, a woman at the end of her life, a woman with nothing. But one thing this week has taught me is that I only have one chance at life. And Flight-Aid is what I want.
She wants him too, of course, but she doesn’t try to force him:
‘And I’m very close to falling in love with you,’ she whispered. ‘Because…there’s this connection. I don’t get it, I can’t figure out why I’m feeling it, but I am. Like we’re linked. Our backgrounds. Something. I’m sorry but there it is. Honesty on all fronts. But I’m a big girl. I’ve walked alone all my life and I’m good at it. I know you don’t want whatever I’m feeling, and that’s more of a reason for me to get myself as apart from you as I can without leaving Whale Cove. So for now…you need to put up with posters, put up with sharing your home, put up with people in your life for another week or so. And then… I’m not sure what you’ll do with Lucy, but that’s up to you and Lucy. For the rest of it I’ll respect your right to be alone.’
Fear not, readers, this is a Harlequin romance, so there will be an HEA. And since it’s a Medical, there will be a crisis that brings them together. But in the hands of such a skilled author, a predictable story arc is still satisfying and a foregone conclusion is still enjoyable.
Less predictable and even more satisfying is the depiction of Amy’s background and home. Dry Gum Creek, in the Outback, is poor and in desperate need of medical and financial assistance. You paint vivid word pictures of this setting; they are moving and poignant without being in any way mawkish:
‘We’re not defined as a hospital,’ Joyce told her. ‘We’re not even a nursing home because we can’t meet the staffing ratio. A lot of our population is nomadic. Every time we try and take a census so I can get funding, everyone seems to go walkabout, so this is a sort of a boarding house with hospital facilities.’
‘With you on duty all the time?’
Joyce gave a wintry smile. ‘Don’t look at me like that, girl. I’m no saint. This place suits me. I can’t stand bureaucracy. I train our local girls to help me and I do very well.’
As a reader, I could see exactly why Pippa wanted to spend her life in these communities, and I very much appreciated that she would do it with or without Riley. Of course, as a faithful romance reader, I was glad that in the end she got to do it with him.
Note to non-Medicals readers: there are, as usual, babies all over the place. But they fit the storyline (okay, the baby at the very end is not entirely necessary). If you’re going to violate your no-babies-in-romances rule, I recommend The Doctor and the Runaway Heiress as your exception.