I thought I’d take a break from my gushing about historical hunks to talk about a group of fascinating contemporary men. Let’s visit Lisa Kleypas’s Travises.
When Lisa Kleypas started writing contemporary romance, I moved right along with her and picked up her first contemporary novel, Sugar Daddy, about Liberty Jones, a poor Texas girl trying to get by and bring up her baby sister. Her career as a hairdresser (and some other mysterious events) bring her in contact with the fabulously wealthy Churchill Travis, a man old enough to be her father. Through a series of fortunate events, Liberty ends up living in Churchill’s palatial home and working as his assistant. Naturally, everyone thinks she’s his “Assistant”—wink, wink—including Churchill’s oldest son, Gage. So, yeah, you can see this coming. Gage falls in love with Liberty, but fights it every inch of the way. Liberty falls in love with Gage—and ditto.
They overcome the initial misunderstanding and are well on the way to their happily ever after. But when it comes, the dark moment is a doozy (I’m not telling, you’ll have to read it) and involves Hardy Cates, about whom more later. Liberty must make a choice and the only choice for her is Gage: gorgeous, stalwart and kind, although he does draw a line in the sand after Liberty runs into Hardy after many years:
Thin shards of light from the minibar broke his face into harsh slats. “You think you’re still in love with him.”
“I don’t know.” My eyes watered.
“Don’t,” Gage said, his calmness vanishing. “I’d do almost anything for you. I think I’d kill for you. But I’m not going to comfort you while you cry in my arms over another man.”
“…I want you more than he ever did or ever will. You remember that while you’re getting your head straight… Remember this,” he said in a guttural voice and reached for me.
You tell her, Gage, and if she’s not interested… But she is, naturally. Who wouldn’t be?
The next book in this series is about the Travis sister, Haven and—what do you know?—Hardy Cates, the Blue-Eyed Devil of the title. Hardy meets Haven at Liberty and Gage’s wedding and is attracted to her immediately without knowing who she is, although Haven accuses him of being interested in her because she’s a Travis.
This book gives us a clear and gut-wrenching portrait of domestic abuse as we follow Haven through her escape from a troubled marriage. When she is rescued by Gage and returns to her family in Houston, who does she run into but Hardy Cates, doing very well for himself and looking at an apartment in the very expensive building Haven’s brother Jack manages (and where Haven also happens to be living and working).
As you might imagine, this is not an easy relationship. Haven has not overcome the fear of connection engendered by her marriage. Hardy has some pretty dark secrets of his own, and none of the rest of the Travises trust Hardy because of what happened with Gage in Sugar Daddy (read the book).
Initially, Haven, like the rest of the Travis family, is convinced that Hardy’s interest in her is in the way of retribution because of his history with the family. Soon after they reconnect, Hardy tells Haven he wants to see her again.
So I plastered a disdainful smile over the panic, and gave him a look that said I’ve got your number, pal. “You’d just love to fuck a Travis, wouldn’t you?” Even as I said it, I cringed inwardly at my own deliberate crudeness.
Hardy responded with a long stare that fried every brain cell I possessed. And then he said softly, “Just one little Travis.”
Which he does, to Haven’s eventual delight.
As Haven fights her demons, Hardy fights his and, in the end, they both overcome their pasts.
His hand covered my heart with light, warm pressure. “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to get somewhere, be someone… I told myself, ’Fuck ’em. Someday I’ll have it all too, and I’ll be happy.’” His mouth twisted. “But the past couple of years, I finally got the things I wanted, and it wasn’t enough. I was still a miserable bastard. When I’m with you, though…”
“What?” I prompted.
“When I’m with you, I feel like I finally have what I need. I can relax and be happy.”
Hardy and Haven come home to each other.
Which leads me to the third book in this series, Smooth Talking Stranger, about Gage and Haven’s brother Jack Travis. Hardy Cates, notwithstanding, I think that Jack Travis is my favorite hero in this series. I’m a beta kind of girl and Jack is a beta kind of hero—in an alpha kind of way.
As a Travis, it’s inevitable that he’s going to be a macho, take-no-prisoners guy in business and, it turns out, in outdoor pursuits – he’s a hunter, a fisher, a sailor. He’s a serial dater, with one hot girlfriend after another, but he refuses to make commitments and seems to always end up as friends once the dating part is over.
The minute he meets our heroine, Ella Varner, he falls head over heels. You have to love that about a guy. Ella enters his life thinking that he is probably the father of her nephew, who was left on her hands by her errant sister. It soon transpires that he is not the father, but by that time he has taken Ella and Luke (her nephew) on, found them a place to live, a path toward discovering the father and taking care of Luke and his mother, all the while silently romancing Ella.
About a week after their first meeting, Jack stops by Ella’s apartment and helps her assemble a crib she bought for Luke. She warms up leftover pasta for him.
Jack dug into the steaming pasta with gusto, making appreciative noises and finishing at least a third of it before coming up for air. “This is great. What else can you cook?”
“Just the basics. A few casseroles, pasta, stew. I can roast a chicken.”
“Can you do meat loaf?”
“Marry me, Ella.”
I looked into his wicked dark eyes, and even though I knew he was joking, I felt a wild pulse inside, and my hands trembled. “Sure,” I said lightly. “Want some bread?”
Ella’s own dysfunctional background has convinced her that the best she can ever expect from an intimate relationship is deep friendship. She is therefore overwhelmed by the feelings for Jack that creep up on her. By the time her sister arrives to reclaim her son, Ella has fallen in love with both Luke and Jack. In relinquishing Luke, she lays the groundwork for leaving Jack and returning to her previously uneventful life as an advice columnist in Austin.
In a lovely Alpha-Beta moment, Jack proposes to Ella by writing a note to her advice column alter-ego:
Dear Miss Independent,
I’ve decided that of all the women I’ve ever known, you are the only one I will ever love more than hunting, fishing, football, and power tools.
You may not know this, but the other time I asked you to marry me, the night I put the crib together, I meant it. Even though I knew you weren’t ready.
God, I hope you’re ready now.
Mary me, Ella. Because no matter where you go or what you do, I’ll love you every day for the rest of my life.
Sigh! Give me a Jack any day.
Smooth Talking Stranger was published in 2009. Since, Lisa Kleypas has begun another series set in the Pacific Northwest, which I’m also enjoying. But, Lisa. You have left Joe Travis, the third brother, without his happily ever after. I’m waiting.
Myretta is the co-founder and current manager of The Republic of Pemberley, a pretty big Jane Austen web site. She is also a writer of Historical Romance. You can find her at her website, www.myrettarobens.com and on Twitter @Myretta.