|Though the “heiress-falls-for-her-attorney” plot may feel like a retread of her previous book, Lip Service (and the characters in that book make a slight appearance here), Suzanne Simmons offers readers an easy escape in Sweetheart, Indiana. Orphaned heiress Gillian Charles isn’t over mourning the loss of her beloved grandparents when she’s informed that she has inherited most of the town of Sweetheart. But in order to claim her inheritance, she must live there for six months. Seems that grandpa has an ulterior motive, though Gillian has no idea what it is. Wary but curious, Gillian leaves behind her New York socialite life and heads for the American Midwest.
Gillian’s contact is Sam Law, a former hotshot attorney who left the city, and a broken engagement, behind and returned to his hometown of Sweetheart several years ago. Sam is ready to dismiss Gillian as a rich, useless party girl, but their first meeting leaves him in doubt. Gillian is polite, asks intelligent questions, and lacks the veneer of snobbery he expected. Granted, she shipped a grand piano to Sweetheart, but hasn’t done anything else outlandish. He grudgingly admits she might be a decent person, but as soon as the six months are up, no doubt she’ll hotfoot it back to New York.
Sam is house-sitting for his parents, so he has arranged for Gillian to inhabit his own house, which is next door. This was the one part of the setup that felt forced. Much is made of the fact that Sweetheart is a “small town” with 11,238 inhabitants – so small, in fact, that there is only one bed-and-breakfast and a rundown motel, so Gillian has no place to stay but in Sam’s house. But the numbers don’t work. The town is big enough for a Wal-Mart, but has no place for any visitors to stay? I live one state away from Indiana, and any town of eleven thousand is going to have at least a Comfort Inn, probably more. The setup would have felt more natural if the population had been eleven hundred, instead.
At any rate, Gillian settles in and Sam doesn’t know how to react. She’s as nice as could be. She seems all too human. His parents’ dog loves her and has deserted Sam to go live with Gillian. And she’s very, very attractive. Before long, Sam is sharing steak dinners with her and teaching her to drive. But not everyone in Sweetheart is happy to meet Gillian. Threatening letters arrive. A dead animal is left on her porch. Sam’s protective instincts go into overdrive, and it isn’t long before the attraction simmering beneath the surface ignites.
The residents of Sweetheart are, thankfully, portrayed as real people. Minerva Bagley is a middle-aged woman with a New Age Internet business: selling herbs for tea and infusions, among other things. She has her own website and PR person. Anna Rogozinski is a retired concert pianist whose arthritis doesn’t allow her to play any more. Gillian’s own love of the piano brings them together. Several of the local women are hot for Sam, but they never descend into farce.
Neither Sam nor Gillian is portrayed in great depth, but there isn’t a lot of depth to them, so that’s probably wise. Gillian is thirty-one and hasn’t done much with her life other than to travel around, attend cooking schools, and be a socialite. She’s a nice character, but exists in this story only to fall in love with Sam and make a few discoveries about her past. At the end, she’s a nice young woman in love. Sam got fed up with the city and came back to Sweetheart, but that’s about as far as his character goes. The story focuses on finding love in an unexpected place and time, and with an unexpected person, and the focus stays tight. That’s not a bad thing. What readers get is a strong romance with a few outside plot points, rather than a kitchen-sink suspense tale where the romance is fitted in around the action.
The suspense thread (and it’s a small thread) is wrapped up neatly at the end, maybe a bit too neatly. Still, Sweetheart, Indiana is fun and fast-paced. You’ll root for Sam and Gillian and be entertained by their bumpy journey to love. If you enjoy this story, and I’m betting you will, there is more on the horizon. Suzanne Simmons’ next novel, Goodnight, Sweetheart, features Sam’s brother Eric in the lead.