I had the opportunity to read a Christmas anthology last year and one of the novellas was be this author and from this series. I loved the story because I loved the idea of a series of books built around a group of women who call themselves The Margarita Club with the only qualification for membership being that they are a military widow. The series explores each of their circumstances, their individual journey through their grief and a second chance at happiness. I was enchanted and wanted more so I saw this one- which, incidentally is the third book- and dove in.
The author has a deft hand and nailed it with the proper balance. She is able to engage the reader in what these people are suffering without falling over the edge into dreary or depressing. There is hope even in the dark times. There are even bittersweet moments of fighting off the bad thoughts, but there is also humor and heartwarming moments. Oh and don’t think there wasn’t a bit of spice going on between the hot, hard-bodied cowboy who is a military widower (yes, that was an interesting dynamic) and the lovely little red-headed lady and latest member of the Margarita Club to get her story, who takes a chance that this time around will last.
There was a bit of the feeling that I was catching some events awkwardly because I didn’t start from the beginning and apparently the main romantic pair in this one had begun their story earlier. However, I really had no trouble diving into this third book. I was engaged from the beginning and experienced no confusion along the way though I do hope that some of the things introduced in this one will be pursued in the next because I have a powerful curiosity about a half a dozen things that were left hanging which is by the way, my only niggle. I totally want to go back for the other two previous stories and I definitely want to continue with the series.
The story opens with Jessy Lawrence realizing that her life is pathetic and she really has to do something drastic to wrest back the reins. She has been living a lie for so long even her Margarita Club sisters, the people she considers her only family in the world, don’t know the half of it. She has hit an absolute rock-bottom low after getting fired and waking up hungover three days later. Drinking blots out all the regrets. But now she wants to change and she sets out to do that very thing. And lo and behold, she is given a second chance with a man who knows grief and loneliness well.
Rancher Dalton Smith has mourned his dead wife for several years, but his grief is twisted by the anger and pain that for some reason she would rather die than come home to him. He has kept her secret that none of her family or his knows- his wife survived the bomb and then killed herself. And she’s not the first person to leave him since his identical twin took off years ago from the family ranch with no explanation and took Dalton’s girlfriend with him. Now, he realizes in small ways starting from that time he spent with Jessy when they were both drunk that he is ready to rejoin the living and he wants to see Jessy again. Dalton has his issues and he knows that Jessy does too so they start over again and tentatively give what is between them a try.
I was struck by the difference in reading a full-length novel in the series after reading the novella. The novella was pretty insular in that it focused primarily on the couple finding their romance. While this one had the room to expand so that it felt more like the life story of the group of ladies and not just the main one getting her hero and their romance. I love that style of storytelling in a series when it’s done right. I loved the family feel and the camaraderie. I loved the scenes away from the romance because it enhanced instead of detracted from it. The characters from the previous books are very much present in several scenes and their story threads even push forward a bit with Dane and Carly’s wedding, Therese and Logan moving toward theres, Ilena going through the last weeks of pregnancy and obviously Lucy helping the new widow and her estranged family.
Jessy is the character with the growing to do. She really has a poor self-image so its hard reading her bashing herself and her thoughts on herself are worse. But it was worth it to see her blossom in Dalton’s care and open up and trust everyone with those secrets and bad thoughts she was carrying around. It didn’t happen all at once and it really was baby steps, but she did it. Although watching her heal was difficult, there was no moment when I was irritated or didn’t like her. She fought her demons hard and that’s all I could ask for. She never lost her sass and love for the simple things in her life- her killer shoes, animals, her gals and her hot cowboy.
Dalton grows too, but he is almost finished by the time he reaches out to Jessy. I liked the point Jessy made when she tentatively invited Dalton to join the Margarita Club. There is an expectation that is different on women and men when it comes to dealing with grief and what support there is for it. Dalton had his family, but yet people in general just expected him to buck up and deal. He dealt with the expectation by isolating himself on his ranch and assuming an attitude when people came near him. He came through it, but he pretty much did it alone. Considering he had lived all his life there an nobody reached out was my proof that expectations were different. I felt very tender toward this especially since the wife he grieved made him feel he had done something wrong or wasn’t good enough because she didn’t want to come back to him disabled. Suicide is so hard on the survivors, but again, he didn’t let it bury him and it was Jessy that brought joy back into his life and helped him reconnect with his friends and family.
Now the other couple, Lucy and Ben, are just getting started, but what scenes there were was as riveting as Dalton and Jessy’s story. I hope their book is next. Lucy used an addiction like Jessy to battle grief, but her choice was food. She now tries to fight that and fight the voice in her head that makes her think poorly of herself. She is such a treasure the way she bravely helps a new widow through all that she must do- funeral arrangements, bringing her husband’s body home from the plane with military honor guard, and the added twist of seeing children that she ditched when she started her new life. Lucy connects with the son, Ben. Ben has her eager to try for a new relationship again, but she doubts a successful, big-city surgeon would be interested in her. Ben reluctantly came because a kind woman on the phone told him something about regret that enabled him to set aside the hurt and anger he has nursed for twenty years long enough to be there for the woman who abandoned her family for the man she is grieving. It is Lucy- sweet, kind Lucy- that is his lifeline through all of it. Oh please, oh please, let this be the story that is picked up next.
So, all in all, this was a deep, emotional read that grabbed me up and carried me along to Tallgrass, Oklahoma with a posse of courageous ladies and the men who love them and help them heal. I would recommend this book/series to Contemporary Romance fans who don’t mind a pinch of spice or a lot of poignant feels to go along with a character-driven romance.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for my honest review.
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