Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ first hardcover is the long-awaited story of Molly Somerville from It Had to Be You and Kevin Tucker, whom readers first met in Nobody’s Baby But Mine. Brainy Molly is now 27 and the author of the Daphne the Bunny children’s book series. Having given away her fortune to charity in an attempt to free herself of her despised father, Molly scrapes by on her book earnings and chastises herself for her unrequited crush on Kevin, who doesn’t even remember her name. She compensates by basing her character of Benny the Badger, an often-thoughtless daredevil, on Kevin.
Molly and Kevin come together at the Calebow's cabin in northern Wisconsin when he’s suspended for risking his valuable neck in daredevil pursuits like skydiving. Molly, having dyed her hair an outrageous red, has been sent north by her sister Phoebe for some R & R before she does something crazy, which always seems to happen following a hair experiment. Unaware that Kevin is already in residence, she and her poodle Roo arrive at night only to be tackled by Kevin. She orders him out. He refuses to budge. A truce of sorts ensues. Then Molly is overcome by her curiosity and longing, and slips into Kevin’s bed while he sleeps…
And that one rash act is the catalyst for the rest of the story. An unexpected pregnancy, a forced marriage, and a tragedy serve to drive Kevin and Molly apart. But Kevin, plagued by a sense of guilt and responsibility, is drawn back to Molly just as she’s sunk into the depths of depression. Not knowing what else to do, he hauls her off to a tourist camp in the northern Michigan woods where he has some business to settle. It’s there that Molly and Kevin will peel back their defensive layers and finally find out who they are and what they mean to each other.
Phillips takes her time to bring these two together, and it’s sweet time in more ways than one. The church-campground-turned B&B is nearly an active character in the book. To Kevin, a Preacher’s Kid, it represents years of lonely summers spent with his elderly parents and a bevy of serious, religious adults. To Molly, the refurbished Victorian cottages and surrounding woods are her storybooks come to life. He’s resentful; she’s enchanted. As Molly regains her natural spunk and begins to treat Kevin with the sass he’s come to miss in her, their relationship kindles.
Still, Phillips takes it slowly. This is a romance that will be solidly grounded in friendship before it regains the bedroom. Daredevil Kevin and good-girl Molly are much more alike than they know, and it will take them some time to find it out. Phillips weaves the fabric of this romance together with expert precision and a great deal of warmth and sparkle. Thread by thread it all comes together, and the final fabric is lovely. And Kevin’s final gesture, giving Molly a Grand Romance like her sister’s, had me laughing out loud because it was so perfect.
There are two charming secondary romances in the story. One is comic relief, featuring a pair of newlyweds who can’t keep their hands off each other and who try to give Molly and Kevin advice about sex. The other is between an aging actress with ties to Kevin and a curmudgeonly, renowned artist who is living nearby. I found this romance to be captivating, and proof positive that fifty-somethings can be just as engrossing as their hard-bodied younger counterparts.
It seems that Susan Elizabeth Phillips is on a five-heart winning streak at TRR, and there has been more than a smidgen of luck involved. While I loved It Had to Be You and Nobody’s Baby, I was less enamored of Lady Be Good and flat-out didn’t care for First Lady. But This Heart of Mine is Susan Elizabeth Phillips at top form. By turns poignant, funny, and joyful, it’s an engrossing read that will captivate her legions of fans.