|Lauren Jessup wanders into the small California coastal town of Bella Luna with her six-year-old son, Billy, after seeing it on a postcard and feeling drawn to the place in a way she can’t define. Lauren is a wanderer, unable to put down any roots after being brought up in a series of foster homes. She’s also a talented cook who’d love to try her hand in a restaurant, but since the only job available is as a part-time waitress in the local café, she takes the job, hoping for a lucky break and a chance to showcase her skills.
Lauren soon runs into Nick DiMartino, a single dad with a six-year-old son of his own. Nicky-J, as everyone calls little Nicky Junior, soon becomes friends with Lauren’s little boy Billy, and the two adults are drawn together over their children. But Nick has a big problem on his hands: his ex wife is attempting to gain custody of the child, after abandoning him when he was only one year old. Nick isn’t about to let that happen. Nor is he about to get involved with Lauren when his life is complicated enough.
Lauren is equally wary. She knows that, eventually, she’ll feel the need to pull up stakes and move again – won’t she? Or will the mystical pink moon that shines over Bella Luna bring a momentous change in Lauren’s life?
Stef Ann Holm always creates realistic, empathetic characters, and Pink Moon is no exception. Lauren is understandably guarded. Her background hasn’t allowed her to bond with anyone but her son, and her need to move on, always searching for something that seems to be just out of reach, is drawn with compassion rather than pathos. Nick, who would willingly let himself fall for Lauren but is restricted by the threat hanging over him, is the picture of a man putting his own life on the back burner to be the best dad he can be for his son.
The romance between Nick and Lauren is so guarded, in fact, that it may frustrate readers. These are two people who spend much of the book circling each other warily, not allowing themselves to get too close, always holding something back. From that angle, it may fail to satisfy. There is sexual tension between them, but it comes to a very slow simmer.
The boys in the story are realistic kids who get into trouble and aren’t perfectly behaved, but are quite lovable nonetheless. I was less impressed by the parenting skills demonstrated by Nick and Lauren. When we meet Nicky-J, he’s seated in a diner with his dad, uncle, and grandpa, and the guys are matter-of-factly drinking beer, swearing, and discussing making armpit fart noises. Good ‘ol boy stuff, but it lent credence to the ex-wife’s contention that she could offer Nicky-J a more refined upbringing. Lauren, who hasn’t sent Billy to school but has “taught him the alphabet, shapes and colors, and how to write his name”, believes he may be “intellectually advanced”. Her reasoning that it’s time to send Billy to school so he can socialize and be around other kids misses the point that it’s also the law. The ultimate resolution of the custody sub-plot may strike readers as a bit too pat, as well. It seemed unlikely that all would be resolved so quickly or so neatly.
Though some of the details don’t quite gel, overall Pink Moon is an enjoyable contemporary romance, one that will linger for its realistic characters and their oh-so-realistic problems. If ever a couple deserved a happy-ever-after, it’s Lauren and Nick.