Three Little Words
By Susan Mallery
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: June 30, 2013
Isabel Beebe has returned temporarily to her hometown of Fool’s Gold, California. She has two goals for her stay: (1) to manage Paper Moon Wedding Gowns, the family business begun by her grandmother, while her parents are on a world tour and update it for them to sell upon her return; (2) to avoid contact with Ford Hendrix. She’s making progress toward the first goal, but the second one became impossible since she’s just learned that her parents rented their garage apartment to Ford. Since Isabel is living in her parents’ house, there is no way she can continue to avoid him.
Isabel’s older sister, Maeve, was engaged to Ford, but, after cheating on him with one of his best friends, she dumped him for that friend days before she and Ford were to be married. A broken-hearted Ford joined the Navy, and Fool’s Gold has seen little of him in the fourteen years since then. Isabel, who was fourteen at the time, was in love with Ford in the way only a young teen can be in love. She wrote to him for ten years, sharing bits of her life, refusing to be discouraged at the lack of replies. She only stopped writing when the man she later married was about to propose. When she’s being honest with herself, she admits that she will always have a special feeling for Ford.
Ford Hendrix knew the time had come for him to find something to do with his life other than continue with the Navy SEALs, so when his friend Justice Garrett proposes they join with a couple of other friends to set up a security training facility in Fool’s Gold, Ford decides he’s ready to return permanently. He’s enjoying spending time with his family, but his mother’s hovering is driving him nuts, as is her determination to see him and his brother Kent as happily married as the rest of their siblings. Ford hopes that renting an apartment will give him some space from his mother and sisters. When even that doesn’t discourage his mom, he persuades Isabel to be his faux girlfriend in order to stop his mother’s matchmaking efforts. With Isabel set to return to New York and open a shop there, Ford thinks she’s perfect for the role. He’s about to find out how perfect she truly is for him. But Ford doesn’t do forever, and it’s clear to him that whether she’s in New York or Fool’s Gold, Isabel is a forever girl.
I love these characters! Isabel is sweet and funny and confused and vulnerable, particularly after her divorce. Yet she has an essential optimism that I found endearing. Ford is a charmer with a terrific sense of humor and an understanding heart, an irresistible combination. I cheer Mallory for giving readers a warrior hero with his own demons to fight who is neither a loner nor an alpha butting heads to show he’s in charge. The chemistry between them is great, but equally important Isabel and Ford like one another. And their history provides a strong link. Ford will always be the man in whom the younger Isabel confided, and Isabel will always be the young girl whose letters kept him sane in a dark and dangerous time. This is the foundation other feelings build on. I really like the two of them together and believe they can build a life together. The secondary romance between Consuelo and Kent is also wonderful, although their relationship is very different from Isabel and Ford’s. Consuelo and Kent are such an unexpected match, and yet they are great together. As always, part of the pleasure of a Fool’s Gold book is the town itself and visits with old friends.
My one complaint is that the hero who thinks he can’t love and must run away has been overdone. I’m ready to see some variety in the conflict that postpones the HEA. Indications are that the next set within the series will feature the football players who are moving their business to Fool’s Gold. I’m eager to meet them and their heroines, but I hope to see the pattern of relationships mixed up a bit.
Do you think books in a long-running series can become too similar? What’s the difference between the comfortably familiar and the disturbingly repetitious for you?