We’re reading our way across America…one romance at a time.
Texas: Texas! Lucky by Sandra Brown (Texas! Trilogy, Book 1)
The Lone Star State has much to recommend it. Twenty-eighth in the Union, America’s largest and certainly among its most iconic, its very name conjures up a veritable slideshow of images: ranchers, oil fields, ten gallon hats, college football fanatics, the Alamo, barbecue and Walker, Texas Ranger. In the 2011 movie Bernie, which deals with—and even almost celebrates—the real-life murder of a wealthy widow from the small Texan town of Carthage, one of the townspeople has this to say about his home state:
“Carthage is in East Texas and that’s totally different from the rest of Texas which could be five different states, actually. You got your West Texas out there with a bunch of flat ranches. Up north you got them Dallas snobs with their Mercedes. And then you got Houston, the Carcinogenic Coast is what I call it, all the way up to Louisiana. Then down south, San Antonio, that’s where the Tex meets the Mex, like the food. And then in Central Texas you got the People’s Republic of Austin with a bunch of hairy-legged women and liberal fruitcakes. Course, I left out the panhandle and a lot of people do, but… Carthage, this is where the South begins.”
So from the outside, Texas might be reduced to mere stereotype, to the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and oil money and mustachioed bronco riders in leather vests and bolo ties, but from the inside it is a culture apparently far more complex and diverse than mere pop culture might have otherwise led us to believe.
Texas! Lucky, the first in Sandra Brown’s Texas! trilogy, in no way chooses to explore this multiplicity, but instead throws us headlong into regional cliché as thoroughly as any cheap airport postcard. Our hero owns an oil drilling company. His brother was a rodeo star. He’ll physically defend the honor of a “lady”—though whether he’d be as willing to step in on behalf of a woman he considered a hussy remains unclear—and he is almost fanatically attached to the idea of family honor. He’s a man’s man, a ladies’ man and a good man, though of course he is more than a little misunderstood.
For all its seeming familiarity, however, Texas! Lucky stands out a long way from the pack when it comes to conventional contemporary romance. Much of that is owed to the fact that most of the story is told to us from our hero’s—oh, his name is Lucky, by the way—point of view. Lucky is indulging in a drink in a local dive known only as The Place when he sees some local toughs getting a little too insistent with a beautiful stranger, clad too classily to be the seedy establishment’s usual clientele. He steps in and before long fisticuffs ensue, leaving Lucky battered and bleeding—he is none too pleased, therefore, to discover that for all his chivalry, his rescued damsel in distress is in no mood to be grateful. She scolds him roundly for his interference and then takes off into the night, and this is where Lucky’s character must be immediately called into question, because he takes off after her, believing she owes him at least a semblance of gratitude and determined to get it. He tracks her to a roadside motel, by now feeling the effects of the pummeling he just took, and talks his way into her room pleading possible internal injuries. And this is where his quarry’s character—she gives her name as Dovey; he is understandably skeptical—must also be called into question, because not only does she overcome very sensible misgivings to allow him to spend the night in her room, but they also sleep in the same bed. With predictable, middle-of-the-night, results.
Of course, she leaves before he awakens, leaving no trace of her true identity or her address, and that might have been an end to it had it not transpired that she, and only she, could then clear Lucky of an arson charge being leveled against him. His family’s company, Tyler Drilling, is in financial trouble, and it is suspected that a devastating fire set that fateful night was his attempt at insurance fraud. Meanwhile, the fact that his alibi is a one night stand with a stranger is of particular concern to a spoiled young woman in town who has set her cap at Lucky—and who most people would concede probably has a point, given they’ve apparently been dating a while. But it turns out Susan is a total bitch, so we can easily dismiss her claims to fidelity.
His desperate search for his mysterious bed-partner being unsuccessful, Lucky is temporarily stymied until the acumen of our heroine is once again called into question—really, is it reasonable to assume you’ll be able to remain incognito when you’re a popular columnist for the local city’s major paper, and your photograph accompanies your by-line? And that is not all that troubles one about Devon Haines; nor, indeed, is Lucky Tyler a pattern card of all the virtues. Between them, she and Lucky have made, and continue to make, some pretty stupid mistakes, and what with her constant denial of the obvious and his constant temper tantrums and studied smooth talk, they can be one hell of a frustrating pair.
There is something just so compelling and charming about this tale, and about the way in which it is told. The Texas twang is rendered nicely on the page, the family dynamic is warm and engaging, the arson mystery—or lack of one; there is really no doubt as to the culprits here—is carried off nicely and there are few to beat Brown when it comes to the euphemistic sex stuff. I have mentioned before in these pages my love of Loveswept category romances, and it was there she really honed her skills—and, perhaps no less importantly, came to my lofty notice.
The seeds are sewn herein for the next in the trilogy, Texas! Chase, and it is perhaps as fine a recommendation as I can give to say that this first book leaves one eager to read more of the troubled Tyler clan. Is it a tale as big as Texas? No. But does it celebrate the former, exclamatory part of its title as much as its latter, titular hero? Well… no. But does it hold you enraptured, smitten by Lucky’s bone-deep need for Devon, and leave you with a smile at the (somewhat bittersweet) happily ever after? Abso-damn-lutely, pardner.
Though if someone could please explain to me the whole late-twenties virgin heroine thing—and especially the late-twenties virgin heroine for no apparent reason IN THE 1990s thing—I’d appreciate it.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.