Dear Ms. Ford,
When you offered us a chance to read your novel, the title gave me pause. “Oh dear,” I thought. This is going to be about some spoiled heiress who has to act silly and ends up falling for a poor hero all told against a backdrop of weddings. Which goes to show how deceptive a title can be. Delaney isn’t rich, Mike isn’t poor, they’re both in line to inherit some pretty nice goodies if they, and several other people, meet the terms of a will but yes, there are lots of weddings in the story.
Oh, the will. This would send Jane into orbit no matter if the plot says the hero (a lawyer) and the heroine (who checked with a lawyer) know it’s insane. How could the will as they know it be ironclad? Okay, I just ended up accepting then forgetting this part of the plot to get to the better stuff. The ultimate revelation about the terms of the will also helped me to swallow this. However, why does the villain pay no price for what was done? What they did is literally laughed off despite the time, trouble and expense it caused. I didn’t get this. But I did figure out, almost from the moment this person was first introduced to us, who dunnit.
Mike and Dan were horrible to Delaney when she was growing up. I wouldn’t blame her for wanting to kick both of them in the nuts. And they were certainly willing to play up the pathos and turn on the pressure to get her to come to Holiday Bay despite any other issues she might have had going on in her life. Does she ever learn that she’s the “Pumpkin Project?” I was pleasantly surprised that this didn’t turn out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back – for 10 pages of conflict at the end – before everyone comes to their senses.
I can’t count the number of books I’ve read which feature heroines who’ve loved and lusted after the hero from afar for years. And most of them annoy me to some degree. Usually the grown up heroine is supposed to now be intelligent, pretty, and poised. Yet when in the presence of the object of her long held affections, she suddenly turns into a klutz queen who alternates between tripping over her own feet and drooling over the still hunky hero. I was all set to watch Delaney do just this when something amazing happened. You showed how Delaney’s grown up and over her youthful fixation on Mike. Yeah, she still thinks he’s handsome but she can zing him. She also hasn’t spent the last 15 years secretly still pining for him. She’s had boyfriends and lovers. She’s been a modern American woman.
And then there was the perfect showdown over her childhood nickname of Pumpkin.
“All I know is it’s Thursday night,” she said evenly. “And I’ve got an even bigger wedding to pull off this weekend than last.”
“And all I know is if we want to get our inheritances, we can’t go around pissing each other off. So let me give you a piece of wisdom learned from my years in law. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
An acid-laced retort leaped to the tip of her tongue, but before she could let loose with it, he was already standing.
“Now, Pumpy, let’s go finish the meeting because I’m sure everyone’s getting restless in there.”
Pumpy? Pumpy? She’d had enough of being Pumpy. She’d had enough of trying to figure out why he’d never gotten past the fat redhead she used to be. Who did he think he was?
She stood and leveled a cold stare on him. “No, Mikey, I don’t think so. I don’t need your lectures, I don’t need your sympathy, I don’t need your rah-rah cheerleading.” Suddenly, she realized, she wasn’t sure she even liked this adult Mike at all. Maybe she’d never liked who he was, just the image of who she wanted him to be. How could she even have thought herself attracted to him? “And I really don’t need to be Pumpy McBride anymore. Have you ever given any thought to what it felt like-‘feels like-‘to be called Pumpkin when you’re red-haired and fat?”
He stared at her.
“No. I didn’t think so.” Oh, this felt good. “Frankly, I’ve had quite enough of tonight’s heirs’ meeting if you don’t mind.” She took off down the sidewalk purposefully, covering long stretches of concrete with her strides, knowing that Mike was watching her go. Let him watch my back. Let him watch me walk right out of this town and out of his life. She tossed her hair dramatically.
Not that she was in his life anyway. And not that she could leave this town before the weddings were done and her inheritance secured. Her steps faltered and slowed. She felt as if she was in a movie and any minute the hero should chase her down the sidewalk and stop her, tell her how sorry he was and beg her to stay.
But at the end of the second block, she resigned herself to the fact that life just wasn’t that well scripted. And this town sure as hell was no movie set.
I read this scene and almost cheered. First because here’s a heroine who is strong enough to finally stand up for herself and secondly because at the end of it all, there’s that bit of realism to show it’s not an ending out of a movie script. It’s also the beginning of Mike seeing – and falling in love with – the woman Delaney is now.
MIKE STOOD IN THE doorway to the shop’s office and watched Delaney as the message played. Watched the soft light from the desk lamp highlight the golden strands in her red hair. He’d known from the moment he’d first heard her on the phone that Pumpkin McBride had grown up. But he’d never taken the time to consider the woman she’d become-‘and what she had gone through to get there. Not when Dan proposed he romance Pumpkin to keep her in town. Not even when he reluctantly agreed to do it. And especially not minutes ago when he’d treated her like a wayward child in need of his expert guidance.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the heirs’ meeting?” she asked.
“We adjourned early again. Seem to have a real problem finishing those meetings.” He stepped into the room. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. And if you don’t want my lectures or my sympathy or my cheerleading, much as it breaks my heart, I understand.” He smiled sheepishly. “And, well, how about if I never call you Pumpkin again?”
She looked at him for what felt like a full minute. “That would be a start.”
“And I’ll never give you advice again, unless you ask for it.”
She just looked at him, her expression unreadable. “And you’ll never bring up vinegar and honey.”
“Or any derivative of Pumpkin.”
“Or any derivative of Pumpkin,” he said quietly.
She nodded and looked away.
“We never meant any harm. Not then. Not now. Pumpkin was mostly because of the red hair. Just like they called me 007 because my last name was Connery. And Dan was Hobes because his last name was Hobart. And Jack Turleton was Spike-‘”
“Because of his grandstanding in the football games. Yeah, I know. I get it. All the guys had nicknames. All the guys and me, the fat redhead.”
“No. Just the redhead. So what do you say, Delaney? Will you forgive me if I promise never to screw up again?”
In the subdued light, he saw the vulnerability in her expression and for just a second, the young girl whose heart had always been big enough to forgive the transgressions against her. And then the girl was gone. Delaney rolled her eyes and stuck out a hand. “Don’t get carried away. You’re a man. You’ll screw up again.”
“What? Delaney, you cut me to the quick.” He clasped her hand and she flashed him a quick grin.
The weddings Delaney has to arrange weren’t merely to poke fun at the industry. Sure some of the details these brides wanted for their special day could be eye rolling if viewed from the outside, yet in the end it’s what they wanted and Delaney does her best to accommodate their wishes. The tie in to one of my guilty pleasures – Bridezilla! – was au courant. What is it about weddings that turns otherwise sane women into raging maniacs? A career in dealing with these women, and their mothers, ::shudder:: no thank you!
Andy was another great surprise. She’s eleven years old, basically a good kid and her character isn’t played for laughs. The conflict between Mike and his daughter seem real and not manufactured for the plot. Andy’s reaching that stage where she’s beginning to spread her wings, test a bit more, get interested in boys and drive her father up the wall. Yet she retains some vulnerability. She’s also a shrewd bargainer when it comes to her assistance at Storybook Weddings. I can see her as a future high powered negotiator and definitely as the daughter of two lawyers.
So often the conflicts that drive a hero and heroine apart in the final chapters of the book feel manufactured and faux. Especially the ones that a good 10 minute talk would resolve. Not here, though. Mike’s desire to stay in his small hometown for the sake of his daughter vs Delaney’s need to ensure that she has a job to support her in case the inheritance doesn’t work out is real life. I also like that you have Delaney truly agonize over her choices instead of making a snap decision. This part faltered a little bit when Mike was immediately ready to think badly of Delaney for leaving early though he did redeem himself somewhat by thinking the thing through and realizing her reasons for what she felt she had to do.
One shouldn’t rely on preconceived notions about Harlequin book titles. If I’m honest, I might not have tried this book based on that and the blurb. I was expecting cutesy but I got a lot more. A strong heroine, a nice hero and two people who really see the other for who they are. B