Promises Under the Peach Tree
Harlequin / September 1, 2014 / $6.75 print, $4.99 digital
The trouble with Heartache
Nina Spencer swore she was done with Heartache, Tennessee, when she left the town—and her sexy ex, Mack—in her rearview mirror. But when her bakery business is rocked by scandal, she needs a place to regroup. What she doesn't need is Mack Finley reminding her of peach-flavored kisses and the hold he still has on her.
Mack never forgot Nina—not that he didn't try. Yet between caring for his family and organizing the annual Harvest Fest, he's overwhelmed and he needs Nina's help. They can work together without getting swept up in memories and the rush of brand-new passion, right?
With my almost Pavlovian response to story arcs with reunited lovers, it is no surprise Joanne Rock’s Promises Under the Peach Tree caught my eye. Along with this favorite trope, I discovered realistic conflicts about lovers’ expectations and divided loyalties.
Two individuals having different goals is fairly common in romances, but usually it is about the seriousness of the relationship with one person wanting marriage and the other not ready to commit. Both Mack and Nina fell deeply in love, there was no question about that, but because of the way each were raised, their expectations of each other differed.
Nina Spencer never got over her parents’ cavalier attitude toward parenthood. Even before their ugly divorce, Nina spent more time with her grandmother than her parents. After the divorce, her parents moved to opposite coasts, and just quit pretending to have any motherly or fatherly aspirations. This void made a big impact on Nina’s dreams—not only would her perfect man be wonderful, but he would be there for her. He wouldn’t let her down like her parents. And together, they would create a new amazing family.
Being young and naive, Nina didn’t realize that falling in love with Mack Finley was a heartache, like the town’s name, waiting to happen. Mack grew up with a bipolar mother and he watched her suffer with depression most of his life. He knows the impact it had on him and his family. Since there is a genetic component to this disorder, he decided early on that he didn't want children. Why take the risk that his children might possibly have to deal with a dad with a debilitating disorder? Or even scarier that his children might be tormented with the crippling lows that kept his mother from functioning fully? But even more than that Mack has a strong sense of responsibility toward his family, especially his mother.
In her naiveté, Nina thought that Mack would change his mind. But that’s not the issue that tore them apart. When Nina needed Mack, just like her parents, he failed to put her first.
That’s why he’d let her go to pursue her dreams alone, right? That’s why he’d chosen his family instead, insisted on staying behind in Heartache to pick up the pieces of the lives ruined on graduation night…
Old anger flared. Just like her parents, Mack talked a good game but he hadn’t really wanted her.
On graduation night, Mack’s best friend Vince hit on Nina one too many times, and she called him on it, making a scene and embarrassing Vince in front of his girlfriend Jenny, and the rest of their group. Vince took off in Mack’s car and tragically hit a bridge support, dying on impact. Since Vince was in Mack’s car, it was assumed that Mack had been killed, sending his bipolar mother into a tailspin, requiring her hospitalization. Nina, feeling the weight of everyone’s disapproval and blame, took off for New York City, leaving Heartache ahead of schedule. But Mack’s sense of obligation kept him in town—Vince’s mother needed him, Vince’s girlfriend Jenny needed him and of course so did his mother. For Nina it wasn’t that he couldn’t leave, but that he wouldn’t leave, putting her needs last. There was no way to reconcile that wounding truth.
And it doesn’t seem possible to do it eight years later either, except neither realized that their old feelings were only buried, not dead.
“You can’t be serious.” She didn’t want to think about what it meant if he still had feelings for her.
She’d gotten use to hers—the healed over hurt that left a long scar. But if he still cared about her…”I thought we were going to try to be friends.”
“Is that even possible, Nina, when the air damn near crackles every time I get near you?” He stared at her in the moonlight.
But is it really different this time? Mack is in town to support his brother, whose marriage is in jeopardy. Not only is his brother struggling, but so is his niece. And his mother is in one of her down periods again, isolating herself from the people that care about her. How can he put his needs first and how can he resolve their different goals:
He wished they wanted the same things. But he’d be leaving Heartache soon and he could never fulfill the longing she had to have a real family of her own. She deserved it after what she’d gone through with her parents, never having siblings and barely having her parents in her life. But Mack’s family had created so many problems for him that he refused to recreate the same situation with children of his own. He’d visited shrinks plenty of times over the years just to be sure his occasional bad days were normal. Level. He wasn’t about to pass on those fears to a kid.
You will enjoy this complex conflict between old and new loyalties and different aspirations as Nina and Mack realize that sometimes love can conquer all.
Learn more or order a copy of Promises Under the Peach Tree by Joanne Rock, out September 1, 2014:
Leigh Davis, blogger