Can't Buy Me Love
By Molly O’Keefe
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Tara Jean Sweet is a woman with a past, a troubled past that she’s been trying to outrun for four years. But a new name is not enough to let her escape her past. Not even the payoff wealthy Lyle Baker promises if she plays the role of his sexy, gold-digging fiancé convincingly enough to bring his estranged children back to his Crooked Creek Ranch is enough. The plan works, but there is no deathbed reconciliation scene. His children shed no tears when Lyle Baker dies. The old man may have left Tara forty percent of Baker Leather, but with his son as CEO, staying at Crooked Creek may be more dangerous than the demon voice in Tara’s head or the blue-eyed threat from her past because Luc Baker makes her want to be better than the trailer-trash, con artist Tara knows she is.
Luc Baker has spent twenty years in the National Hockey League. His career has given him wealth greater than that of the father he hates, fame as the league’s celebrated Ice Man, and scar tissue on his frontal lobe that could make retirement mandatory. At thirty-seven, Luc is terrified by the idea of life without hockey. The career that was supposed to prove to Lyle Baker the stuff his son was made of has become the definition of who Luc is. Without hockey, he fears he is nothing. When Luc returns to Crooked Creek, he does so only for his sister, and he returns filled with anger, bitterly resentful that coming back makes him feel like the scared kid he once was, and spoiling for a fight. Tara Jean Sweet is the perfect target for his animosity. Too bad he can’t stop wondering how she’d feel in his arms.
Can’t Buy Me Love sounds like a cute, clever contemporary romance. The deceptiveness of that impression seems appropriate since deceptive appearances is one of the novel’s motifs. The title seems to be amusing pop culture word play, but it is far more. Tara seems to be engaged to Lyle Baker, but she isn’t. Luc thinks she’s a shallow slut out for all she can get, but she isn’t. Tara thinks he’s a spoiled celebrity who can’t be bothered with his aging father, but he isn’t. There is humor in the book, but there is no froth. Tara and Luc are characters shaped by their abusive pasts that have left them damaged in ways that adulthood and success have not healed. Strong chemistry and captive hearts cannot make them whole and healthy enough to accept themselves as people of value who deserve to be loved. The damage is not limited to the principal characters. Luc’s sister Victoria is filled with self-hatred and unable to define herself apart from a man. Eli Turnbull, the ranch foreman, is consumed with bitterness that the land that belonged to his family for generations is now Baker land.
Near the end of the novel, Victoria voices a truth all the characters must learn: “We’re more than our mistakes. . . . More than our pasts. We can be more than the things we let define us.” Once Tara and Luc accept this truth, they can accept their flawed selves and open their hearts to receive the love that is waiting for them. These sentences are thematic not only for Can’t Buy Me Love but also for Molly O’Keefe’s work generally. It is a theme that was present, if less directly articulated, in The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill, the first O’Keefe book I read, a theme I found throughout the backlist I then glommed, and one that resonates in her newest work of category fiction, Unexpected Family.
Can’t Buy Me Love is a single-title debut worth celebrating. Molly O’Keefe tells a great story that evokes laughter and tears, and she does something more. She reminds her readers of a truth we all need to learn. I highly recommend this book.