By Vickie King
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
September 16, 2013
Carly Braddock returned to her hometown of Corrigan, West Virginia, after a two-year relationship with a hotel magnate ended. The biggest heartbreak was not losing the hotelier but rather his four-year-old son to whom Carly had become a mother and the child’s pain over losing the only mother he had known. The experience left her determined to avoid single fathers in the future. It also left her newly focused on making a success of her bakery and café, Sugar Plums. She is proud of what she has achieved her first year in business for herself and enjoying time spent with her large, loving family and her best friend Roxie and her kids. Her biggest worry is coming up with the perfect sugar cookie recipe. That changes one day when she sees Luke Donovan sitting in Sugar Plums.
Luke Donovan, a wood preservationist, is back in town to do some restoration work for the Corrigan Historical Society. While he’s there, he is living in the old Thaxton house, which belongs to his old friend Brian Thaxton and making repairs to it. The house is not all Luke needs to repair. He hopes that a summer with lots of one-on-one time will restore his relationship with his twelve-year-old daughter Brooke to the closeness they had always enjoyed before she entered her current rebellious stage. Luke has never forgotten the summer he spent in Corrigan fourteen years earlier, a summer when Carly Braddock and the love they shared consumed his every thought until Luke’s life was shattered and he left town without a word to Carly. They haven’t spoken since.
Luke feels guilty about Carly, and he wants a chance to explain what happened to the boy he once was to her. But Carly responds coolly to his overtures. Luke’s abandonment with no explanation was a defining experience in her life. He has no idea of Carly’s suffering. She may need closure to the chapter in her life that ended with only questions, but she has no intention of allowing herself to be vulnerable to Luke Donovan again. Intentions are an inadequate defense against the dictates of the heart, and before long, Carly and Luke are caught up in a mix of old memories and new passion. Can they find the courage to share their secrets, to forgive past mistakes, and to claim a new life together?
Carly’s Rule marks the debut of Vickie King; it is the first book in her Braddocks series. It is a sweet reunion story with a likeable hero and heroine, both of whom have persuasive reasons for being wary of relationships. Their own truncated history is just part of their wariness. Any reader who can recall the pain of that first heartbreak can understand the power it exercises over these characters.
While the focus of the novel is clearly on Carly and Luke, King offers readers rich contexts for the central love story. Carly’s lively family, individually and collectively, add color and substance to the story. Luke’s daughter is a clearly defined personality, a combination of child and young woman that makes her a believable twelve-going-on-thirteen. Carly’s long friendship with Roxie also rings true in the ways these women show they know, understand, and protect each other. Even though Luke’s friend Brian is not actually present in the story, I liked the fact that the sustained relationship and their involvement in one another’s life revealed another dimension of Luke’s character.
The Braddocks promises to be an appealing addition to the seemingly inexhaustible number of small-town romances. Next up is the story of Carly’s brother Dusty, a private investigator. King provides just enough information about the tragedy in his life to make readers want to know more. I’m also hopeful that the hint of something developing between Roxie and another Braddock brother, Sheriff Logan, will be more than a tease. I look forward to return visits to Corrigan. If you like small-town stories sweet and evocative as Carly’s sugar cookies and with just a pinch of spice in the story, I recommend you check out Carly’s Rule.
One of the things I liked best about this story is that it takes place in West Virginia, not a typical romance location. But there is a Texas connection. Why do you think so many small-town romances are set in Texas and the Great Northwest? What’s your favorite Texas-set romance?