The Boyfriend’s Back
by Ellen Hartman
(Harl Super #1563. $5.50. G)  ISBN 0373-71563-3 
It is hard to like a romance when you don’t like the heroine. In this case, Hailey Maddox made a mistake as a teenager and has paid for it her whole life. Sadly, she paid for it because of the choices she made since then. I found it hard to be sympathetic of someone who not only made the mistake, but kept on making it and then whined when no one understood her. For those who don’t mind whiny heroines, you might like The Boyfriend’s Back better than I did.

In her senior year of high school, 18-year-old Hailey was dating a hunk, but one who was carefree and seemingly as non-serious as a person could be. She and JT McNulty, who was 17, had engaged in hot and heavy petting, but Hailey always shut him down before it got too crazy.   On the side, however, Hailey was meeting her art teacher, a married man, and engaging in wild sex, wholly out of her realm of knowledge. When she ended up pregnant, the teacher told her to get lost. Scared and unsure, she went to JT and asked him to say that he was the father. JT, good  guy that he was, agreed without even knowing who the father was, because he loved her. He stood up for her to both of their sets of parents. The result was that Hailey had her baby as an unwed mother and JT left town, having been given an ultimatum by his mother:  choose his family or choose Hailey. He chose Hailey and took off on his own when she refused his proposal of marriage.

Fast forward 15 years. Charlie, JT’s brother, asked him to come home for his mother's funeral.  She had been killed in a car accident. What he finds is his father in a wheelchair, as a result of an injury at work and his brother needing help. JT takes a leave from his own business in Pittsburgh to take care of his dad and try to make amends. He also sees Hailey, who is now a physical therapist, and wonders about her. Then he finds out that her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, thinks he is her dad, as does half the town. It seems that Hailey could never really tell anyone the truth, so she let them believe JT was the father, even sending birthday cards to Olivia every year in his name. She figured, hey, he was gone, what could it hurt?  And it protected them from some threat that the teacher, Trevor Meyers, who is now the school's principal, has held over her head all these years.

Olivia has been causing problems, however, by asking about her dad.  She even went to the McNultys and introduced herself.  While JT's father, Jack, was never a loving dad to his son, he seemed to have taken to Olivia and they were acting just like a grandfather and his granddaughter would.  JT forces Hailey to tell her he is not the father, and now she wants to know who is.  But through it all, JT and Hailey find they still have strong feelings and aren't sure if it is lust or love or just reminiscing. When Hailey takes on Jack's rehabilitation as a professional P.T., the relationships get even further blurred.

The story tries to capture people who have lived their lives with masks on and who now want to all come clean and let everyone see them for who they are. Hailey laments her choices but is so scared of losing her daughter, and of having her hurt by Meyers, that she just keeps making the same bad choices.  JT is afraid of taking risks and is dealing not only with his relationships from the past, but pressure from his partner and best friend to expand their business. Jack, meanwhile, struggles with his curmudgeonly ways while fighting his fears about his recuperation from his injury.   nd Olivia just wants a family, so she can learn who she really is.

I found the premise hard to believe and disliked the fact that even though she was 18, Hailey was basically taken advantage of by a person of authority.  And then, by using intimidation, he just goes happily along with no repercussions. This left Hailey with guilt and shame that wasn't totally hers.  But because of those feelings, she lied to everyone and has continued to lie, even when it is clear that she is lying.  It's hard to get in her corner when all she does is complain that no one understands her, but she refuses to try to help them understand. 

The Boyfriend’s Back may be a story that others can enjoy. I just couldn’t wrap myself around these characters actions enough to enjoy the romance. 

--Shirley Lyons

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