They say Alove is blind.@ In Tarrant Cole=s case, love is deaf, dumb and blind.
Tarrant=s younger sister Amber has terrorized the family since she was 15. When they finally had enough, their parents finally washed their hands of her. After the elder Coles tossed her out, Amber and her eight-year-old daughter came to camp out at Tarrant=s.
As the novel begins, Amber has taken Tarrant=s 1999 Dodge Viper and $40 from his wallet without his permission. She goes out on the town for a romp with a really sleazy set of companions. Hours later, Amber is involved in a car crash. Her brother=s car is totaled. One person is dead; another has been hospitalized. Before she lapses into a coma, Amber lays blame for the accident on Papa Jack=s, a local sports bar in Galveston.
Throughout her short life, Amber has never taken responsibility for anything. She has had numerous scrapes with the law, a teenage pregnancy and bouts with substance abuse. Tarrant has stuck by her through it all. Now, facing a vehicular manslaughter charge, Amber has lied to her brother -- again. A combination of love, misplaced family loyalty and guilt over an incident in their past, motivate Tarrant to seek revenge on Papa Jack=s and its owners, Jack Harmon and his daughter Meleah.
Just days after the accident, Tarrant scraps his autobody business to take a job as a bartender at Papa Jack=s. He is hoping to find incriminating evidence against the Harmons to prove they knowingly violated dram shop laws and served alcohol to Amber and her friends after they had reached their limit.
But Tarrant is hiding in plain sight. The Harmons know he is Amber=s brother and that he blames them for the accident. Tarrant claims he needs the job because Amber was not covered by their parents medical insurance and the bills are mounting. They buy his story and issue his uniform and W-2. While Tarrant is searching for evidence, he discovers two things: his attraction for the boss= daughter, Meleah and the lies and half-truths his sister has told him. He is frantically buying time until Meleah learns of his own deception.
Family loyalty is the unifying theme of the four Geri Guillaume romances I have reviewed during my tenure with TRR. Like her novella, ACupid=s Day Off.” What the Heart Knows deals with the difficulties, misplaced family loyalties can generate. It is a worthy theme, but it is not well-executed here.
Tarrant Cole and Meleah Harmon are two very strong, independent and honorable characters.
The chemistry between them is very well defined. However, their actions outside their romantic relationship are contradictory and belie the people they are. A subplot dealing with the Harmons= sudden lottery windfall would have heightened, not diminished Meleah=s suspicions about Tarrant. Given Amber=s history, Tarrant sacrificed too much, too quickly to go undercover at Papa Jack=s. If he could afford to put his business on hold for that period of time, Tarrant could have just as easily hired an investigator the Harmons didn=t know. And, because Tarrant and Meleah act out of character, the secondary characters in the novel who play to their lead are often out of synch.
Geri Guillaume=s Be Mine was released last summer. It is a simple story about love and family loyalty that is a five-heart read for me. No Greater Gift and Firm Commitments are also highly recommended.