Impoverished Jordan Carlisle was a teenage model who rose to fame and a
fairytale marriage. Her marriage to wealthy Reynolds Carlisle soured quickly but was bearable only because of Michael, their infant son. After one particularly nasty argument, Reynolds drives off with their son, only to roll the Mercedes in a fiery crash that leaves their bodies nearly unidentifiable.
Jordan is left financially at the mercy of her mother-in-law, who lives with her in a fancy Beverly Hills home. She has finally started to rebuild her life by working in a previously owned designer clothing shop. Her mother-in-law is appalled.
One day en route to work Jordan accidentally participates with the LA Sheriff's Office in foiling a kidnapping. She meets Detective Dominic D'Annunzio, a tough and aggressive cop who measures the differences between them in light years rather than the few miles from the mansion to the "other side of the tracks." Reluctantly, he has to admire her courage and in a weak moment leaves her with his business card.
Although attracted to Dom, Jordan continues to move robotically through life until the day she receives a picture of a toddler who looks like Michael would have looked had he lived. The picture is accompanied by a vague note which suggests that this might be her child, and promises to stay in contact. Having few friends, and certainly not able to confide in her mother-in-law, Jordan contacts Dom.
Dom sees the letter as an unusually cruel scam and would have dismissed it out of hand had she brought it to him officially. Jordan is no dummy and can sense his lack of enthusiasm, so when the next letter comes with an even bigger and better picture she arranges to "meet" the sender and to pay the requested $5000 for information. Dom becomes involved when he realizes what she is doing.
The Tough Guy and the Toddler has a very well-executed, clever and highly original plot that artfully embroils the reader in the increasing tension. As for the characters, Pershing captures the essence of two very diverse people. She does an excellent job creating believable characters with their strengths and weaknesses gradually revealed. Each comes with their share of emotional baggage. The only drawback in the story was the pedantic handling of Dom's emotional baggage as he fought the romance that finally consumed them.
The Tough Guy and the Toddler (notwithstanding the rather inane title that the writer was probably stuck with) is an impressive follow-up to the companion story While She Was Sleeping.