By Julia London
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Madeline Pruett has a busy, organized life in Orlando where she is building a reputation as a successful realtor. Except for business colleagues, her only real relationships are with her self-absorbed, irresponsible mother and Trudi, her bossy but well-meaning best friend. Chaos erupts into Madeline’s carefully controlled life when a Colorado lawyer arrives with the news that the father who has never been more than a name to Madeline has died and left her one-third interest in a ranch in Pine River, Colorado. Each of the two half-sisters that Madeline didn’t even know existed has also inherited one-third of the ranch. Since she wants nothing from the father who ignored her, Madeline’s first inclination is to refuse the inheritance, but at the urging of her mother, who has a self-interest in the outcome, and Trudi, who feels this is the perfect opportunity for Madeline to step “outside the bubble” of her carefully circumscribed life, Madeline allows herself to be persuaded to visit Pine River. Almost before she has time to realize what has happened, she has flown to Denver and in a rental car is making her way to Homecoming Ranch.
Luke Kendrick has spent his adult life sacrificing for his family. When his younger brother Leo, a college football player, is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease that will eventually kill him, Luke is there for his family. When his mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Luke leaves college and returns to Pine River. When his fiancée dumps him because his family’s needs demand too much, Luke gets over it and goes on. Now, two years after his mother’s death, his life is beginning to come together. Although it took him six years, he has a degree in architecture. He has remodeled the home he bought in Denver. He’s enrolled in an MBA program, and the first three of what he hopes will be many houses built to his designs under his name are under construction. But then he learns that his father and Leo are no longer living on the ranch that has been in the family for four generations. Luke’s father sold the ranch to a friend when Leo’s medical expenses left him desperate for cash, with a verbal agreement that the Kendricks could buy the ranch back at the sale price. Unfortunately, the friend died and left the ranch to his three daughters, and the verbal agreement had no legal standing. Regardless, Luke is determined to fight for Homecoming Ranch.
Madeline intends her visit to Pine River to be brief. She’s interested only in meeting her sisters, securing their agreement to sell the ranch, and returning to her ordered life in Orlando where the biggest deal of her career is pending. Luke intends his visit to Pine River to be brief. He plans to get things straightened out, see his father and Leo back on the ranch, and return to living his dream in Denver. Unfortunately, the situation is too complicated for easy resolution. One of Madeline’s sisters wants to keep the ranch, and the other is disposed to let her have her way. Neither shares Madeline’s idea of a quick sale. Luke’s father is weary of the responsibility of the ranch, and Leo likes living in town. Neither shares Luke’s concern with preserving the Kendrick heritage for the next generation. At the very least, Homecoming Ranch is legally bound by a contract to provide the setting and amenities for a destination family reunion of two hundred plus people.
Madeline finds herself involved with the preparation for the reunion, even extending her stay. She also finds she can’t stop thinking about sexy Luke Kendrick whom she seems to run into every time she turns around. Luke finds himself involved in the reunion preparations too, and the buttoned-up city girl has him thinking about unbuttoning and releasing the Maddie he is sure exists within the proper Madeline. She even has him thinking about words like “forever,” bur Madeline has to learn to trust in what she can’t control and to believe that deserves a man who stays before she can accept what Luke is offering.
As much as I enjoy Julia London’s historical romances, it is her contemporary romances that have provided me with some of my most memorable, emotionally satisfying reading experiences. Homecoming Ranch follows this pattern. Madeline and Luke are likeable, engaging characters with complexities enough to be interesting and real and chemistry sizzling enough to provide sigh-worthy romance. The secondary characters have presence and purpose, and just enough is revealed about Madeline’s sisters to leave readers eager to know more. The lawyer too is particularly interesting, seemingly all surface but with an indefinable something that suggests depth and secrets. But Leo is the true scene-stealer and heart-stealer. His courage and humor in the face of adversity are the highlight of the book. I highly recommend Homecoming Ranch, and I look forward to return visits.
London is one of a handful of authors whose books I consider must-reads, regardless of the subgenre. Are there authors who write in more than one subgenre whose books you enjoy equally ?