Lorraine Heath’s Promise Me Forever was a PBR reader suggestion, and since I’ve never read Heath (how is it that I’ve read more romances than the average soul, yet managed to miss so many big-name authors?), I eagerly volunteered. Sheesh, now I’m telling whoppers before I start the review. I volunteered because I love a challenge.
As teenagers, Lauren Fairfield and Thomas Warner fell in love (as only teenagers can do) despite their different stations in life. Then Lauren was whisked off to live in London and Tom took up cattle ranching. Now Lauren’s a proper lady who still mourns her first-and-only love – and, conveniently, Tom is now a long-lost earl (also conveniently filthy rich) arriving in London to take his proper place in society. One can only guess at the odds that Lauren and Tom will somehow reconnect and rekindle and reunite.
This is a fairly standard story that will fail or succeed on the strength of characterization, plotting, and conflict. I’m going to give Heath some credit here – she doesn’t prolong the “when will they see each other” agony. The rest? Well, that’s another issue entirely.
Lauren, despite her deep love for her mother and stepfather (also the social scene), has never enjoyed living in London. She longs to return to Texas and is actively making plans to do so. Earning money on her own is hard for a girl in 1889 London, so when Tom offers to pay Lauren’s passage in exchange for teaching him the ropes of proper society, well, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. Plus it also forces the characters to spend time together, and what is a romance without that? Other than this seemingly heartfelt desire to return home, Lauren doesn’t really have much going on, character-wise.
Tom is a self-made rich dude with a painful past who suddenly finds himself in another country with a boatload of new responsibilities. This is the stuff that makes for real character development. How will he adjust? What about his own longing for Texas? How does he feel about this, that, and the other? Well, I got the sense that he really lusted for Lauren. Other than that, we bobbed along the surface of a potentially deep character.
Looking to the plot for help, I find, hmm, well Lauren wants to go back to Texas. Achieving her goal is hard wor—oops, sorry, not so much. Tom needs to fit in with society. That should take some work. Or a new best friend who happens to be a duke. Oh, I know. Lauren has a reputation as a jilt. That’s meaty stuff. Or something that comes and goes as filler. What about what kept Lauren and Tom apart all these years? Barely deserves a mention. Then there’s Tom’s troubled and dark past.
The circumstances behind Tom’s ascent to the earldom are, well, sketchy at best. It seems that his mother left his abusive father, took Tom to America, left him there and returned to England. Then, somehow, someone found Tom and he became the earl. See all that seething tension and conflict? Tom’s fears that he’ll be vicious like his father is, if I may both coin and butcher a phrase at the same time, like a threadbare thread running through the book. There’s no story development, no exploration of how Tom became earl, not even a plausible explanation for how he was found (remember, even in 1889, the United States was one big place, and the backstory we’re offered doesn’t make it likely that Tom could be located easily).
Lauren’s passion for Texas is like her passion for Tom – all surface, no substance. There are some flashbacks to their youthful love, but they’re not well-developed and don’t add to the emotional punch of the story. Heath doesn’t show as much as tell, so I never believed Lauren’s desire to return home. This, of course, makes her wishy-washy behavior with Tom even less endearing than wishy-washy normally is. It’s like they continued their teenage crush into adulthood (see: hormones, defined). Tom seems to be attracted to Lauren’s adventurous nature – and she does tend to do the stupid, impulsive thing – but I felt no emotional connection.
The key problem with this novel – other than the lack of substantial plot – is the lack of real conflict. The “I want to return to Texas but the man I’ve always loved is now in England” issue is resolved almost too easily. As is the “Why didn’t you write me like you promised?”/”I wrote you every day” issue. Even the rather lame jealous other woman conflict…too easy (also not developed to any degree, so this also feels gratuitous).
With no real plot and no substantial conflict, we must rely on sex and repetition to round out word count. Because good girls of the Victorian era don’t engage in casual affairs, a hastily arranged road trip, complete with Lauren’s duchess cousin serving as chaperone, becomes necessary. Lauren makes it clear to her cousin that when it comes to chaperoning, less is more. There’s even a man-to-man version of this conversation (“Look, dude, I know you planned this trip to get some boinking done, so I’ll make sure my wife stays out of your way”).
So it should go without saying that, mere pages later, we repeated the cousin-to-cousin “when I said ‘chaperone’, I was only kidding” discussion. Yeah, that would be three of the same conversation. I’ll skip the sex scenes. You know how it goes: virgin, first time, sees fireworks, Texan, cowboy, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I often felt like I was plopped down in the middle (or end) of a series as I read this book. It was clear – at least if one is familiar with romance novel conventions – that most, if not all, of the couples introduced in this novel were stars of their own stories. The romance between Lauren and Tom seemed more like a “well, who else is left?” deal than a genuine, heartfelt story that needed to be told, and details that should have been in this book felt like they might have appeared elsewhere. Lots of characters filled the pages, and, from the tittering women in the opening to scene to Lauren’s girlfriends-from—Texas-who-just-happened-to-nab-peers, they weren’t particularly distinctive.
I kept waiting for something, anything, to grab me and make me love this story. The closest I got was the cheap emotional ending which won’t spoil it for you because I am a nice person.
Finally, I offer proof that I finally read the Official Reviewers’ Manual (or why I believe I deserve extra credit):
- I did not mention that the cover is one of those Avon recycled numbers with the hero wearing clothes from the wrong era, even though it really irked me.
- And I did not mention the hero’s mustache even though I hate mustaches on heros (and the aforementioned misleading cover shows a decidedly mustache-free dude), and Tom is a bit weird about his mustache for reasons that make little to no sense.
- I totally nailed the “this book is part of a series” thing (yes, I looked after finishing my review). She shoots, she scores!