I read Marilyn Pappano’s The Horseman’s Bride and liked it very, very much…five hearts worth, to be exact. So when Rogue’s Reform, the third book in Pappano’s Heartbreak Canyon series appeared on the stands, I had to read it. I am happy to say that, while Rogue’s Reform isn’t quite up to Horseman’s Bride standards, it is still an emotionally involving and ultimately satisfying story.
Grace Prescott is 25 years old, seven months pregnant, and just out of prison. For the past 12 years, ever since her mother ran off, her father has been her jailer, regulating and restricting every facet of her life. Hand-me-down clothes, no pay for working at his hardware store, no friends. No wonder when he goes out of town overnight, Grace gets gussied up…with the help of her clandestine friend, Ginger…and goes to a bar for a drink and…and whatever happens from there.
What happens from there is a one-night stand with Ethan James. At age 28, Ethan James has spent his life as Heartbreak’s own, home-grown Bad Boy -- a thief, a gambler, a drinker, and a liar -- who was in Heartbreak only to sign his share of his ranch over to his brother.
Ethan gave his brother the deed to his half of their ranch to make up for a scam he'd run, using that deed. Afterwards, he got himself a job bar-tending in Key West -- about as far from Heartbreak, Oklahoma, as you can get and still be in the United States -- and gave up drinking and stealing and was working on giving up lying and gambling. Then his sister-in-law, Olivia, dropped a bombshell on him, in the form of a snapshot of a seven-months pregnant Grace.
Ethan never hesitates. He heads home immediately even though he knows he is facing a cool welcome from his brother and most of the rest of Heartbreak. Ethan's father -- "no-good, lazy, and worthless" -- deserted his family when Ethan was ten. Everybody agrees that Ethan is just like his father, but now Ethan is listening to an inner voice that tells him his baby needs a father around, even if that father isn't a paragon of virtue. Ethan has been a rolling stone for a long time now, and he's not sure he can stay in one place for any length of time, but he knows he wants to try.
One of the people least happy to see Ethan is Grace. With a little encouragement from the local law, her father left town as soon as he discovered Grace was pregnant. For the first time in her life, Grace is independent and happy to be so. Her father signed the hardware store over to her on his way out of town, and now she has the store to run and her baby to look forward to. She feels normal, and feeling normal is a new experience.
No one knows who the baby's father is and that is just fine with Grace. Her grip on normalcy is recent and tenuous, and she is afraid that if she acknowledges that Ethan James is her baby's daddy, it will blight her child's chances for a normal childhood.
So here we have two people with only two things in common: one night of great sex and a baby due in about nine weeks. Not an uncommon romantic plot, but one that Pappano ultimately makes work. On the way to a touching and plausible ending, both Grace and Ethan spend a lot of time alternately probing each other's psyches and doing some soul-searching of their own.
At times, I found all this scrutinizing of motives and prejudices both wearing and repetitious, but in the end, I had to agree that most of it was unavoidable. Both parties brought a great deal of baggage -- serious baggage -- to any potential relationship, and neither could proceed until at least some of it was dealt with.
Pappano writes a delightful prose…lean, strongly structured, and fluent. Her descriptions of Oklahoma admirably evoked its climate and terrain, making me feel a bit nostalgic for a state I only lived in for a year and left without a backward glance. Overall, I feel comfortable recommending Rogue's Reform. I think you'll like Grace and Ethan and find yourself pulling for them to find some well-deserved -- and long delayed -- happiness together.
-- Nancy J. Silberstein