Lorraine Heath successfully wraps up the Leigh brothers' trilogy with Texas
Splendor, and in so doing completes a family saga that began with loneliness
and ends in a celebration of family. This is youngest brother Austin's story, the
charmer who first appeared in Texas Destiny as a rambunctious teen,
and faced the consequences of responsibility in Texas Glory.
Texas Splendor packs somewhat less of an emotional wallop than
Destiny and is less complex than Glory, but it does stand on its
own as a tale of redemption. Readers who are unfamiliar with the preceding
volumes (or who have short memories) have to wade through the typical "catch up"
pages, but these are kept to a minimum. Still, the plot of Texas Glory plays
a pivotal part here. Austin's older brother Dallas marries Dee, the daughter of his
arch rival. Dee's brothers are a scurvy lot, and when one of them winds up dead,
Austin is blamed for the crime. Rather that ruin the reputation of his first love and
alibi, Becky Oliver, he stands trial and is sentenced to 5 years in prison. That's
where Texas Splendor begins.
Austin is a changed man when he is released from jail. The lighthearted youngster
who once dreamed of finding success in music with his violin, Austin is physically
and emotionally scarred from his prison experience. When he learns that his
beloved Becky has married his best friend, Austin's world crumbles. He can think
of nothing other than clearing his name and tracking down the man responsible for
the murder of Dee's brother. Since the victim wrote the name "Austin" in the dirt
before he died (the clue that got him convicted), Austin figures the Texas town
would be a good place to start. But before he can get there, he makes the
acquaintance of Loree Grant, a lonely young woman who quickly becomes the
antidote to Austin's misery.
Loree has ghosts of her own. She watched her family die at the hands of a
murderer. But she still manages to maintain an air of innocence that captivates
Austin. It has been so long since he's been exposed to anything pure. The two are
drawn to each other despite their fears, and one night of succor in each other's
arms leads to pregnancy.
Loree and Austin marry and return to West Texas, where Loree's nightmares
involving the death of her family come back to haunt her. Inexplicably tied to
Austin's tragedy, she tries unsuccessfully to keep her nightmares at bay. That's
made easier by one fact – as their baby grows, Loree and Austin fall in love, a
rapturous happening that has both partners as bemused as they are thrilled.
This is one of author Heath's more obvious skills – her out-and-out brilliance at bringing the simple and gentle moments of love to light. A glance, a word, a touch – in Heath's capable hands they become powerful images. "So sweet," Austin
murmurs over and over again. It's a heartfelt statement from a broken man, made all the
more powerful by its simplicity.
It isn't until the last few chapters that Texas Splendor starts to wobble
towards an all too pat conclusion. Threads are tied up just a little too neatly, the personalities of the extended family stand poised to overtake the actions. Still, all's
well that ends well, and I suppose the brothers earned it. The Leigh boys, their
wives, their children, their friends, even their dogs, are not easy to forget. Perhaps
Lorraine Heath will continue the family saga in her forthcoming releases. I wouldn't like to lose touch with this family.