Great romances have it all—interesting characters, dynamic chemistry, a good story, and a great payoff. Hard Choices has two of the four qualifications, which makes the book’s journey more interesting than the destination.
The prologue establishes a few facts: Seventeen-year-old Annie Hess (the black sheep in her family) is attacked by an ex-boyfriend when she sneaks off from her brother’s wedding with a bottle of champagne. Logan Drake comes to Annie’s rescue. Annie has always been attracted to Logan (her best friend’s older brother), even though he sees her as a wild child. Annie cultivates this opinion through “scores of boyfriends, Drago (the one who attacked her), the alcohol, the failed tests.” Annie sneaks another bottle and succeeds in becoming soused . . . and pregnant.
Fast forward sixteen years. Annie now co-owns and runs a shop called Island Botanica on Turnabout Island. She’s put her wild child past far behind her. Her niece (make that daughter, fathered by Logan, who has grown up with Annie’s brother and sister-in-law) has run away from home. Logan arrives soon afterward to bring Riley home, but that seemingly simple task becomes complicated when a terrible storm hits the island, leaving substantial damage in its wake.
Hard Choices centers on secrets. Why has Riley run away? What is Logan’s part in the story? The answers unfold naturally as Leigh explores each character. I was drawn into the story right from the prologue; the characters interested me, and I wanted to know more about Annie and Logan.
Annie is a strong and sympathetic character. She has worked hard to overcome her past, even if she hasn’t quite come to terms with it. To some degree, she has isolated herself from her family—understandably so, in some cases. Hard Choices examines the choices Annie has made and documents her journey toward acceptance.
Logan is more of a mystery. He has lived with guilt. Annie’s brother sends him to the island to get Riley, but Logan has reasons of his own for going. He tells Annie and Riley that he is “a spy.” The full meaning of his statement is revealed toward the end of the book, so I won’t give away the details. But even when we learn the truth, it doesn’t quite seem real. This aspect of his character never quite comes into focus. Readers are presented with his point of view, but much about him (particularly toward the end of the novel) remains elusive. For this reason, the romance between Annie and Logan wasn’t completely convincing.
Hard Choices features interesting characters and a strong build up, but the payoff doesn’t live up to the promising beginning.