A Love to Call Her Own (Tallgrass #3)
Grand Central / August 26, 2014 / $8.00 print, $7.99 digital
It's been two years since Jessy Lawrence lost her husband in Afghanistan, and she's never fully recovered. Drowning her sorrows didn't help, and neither did the job she'd hoped would give her a sense of purpose. Now trying to rebuild her life, she finds solace in her best friends, fellow military wives who understand what it's like to love-and lose-a man in uniform . . . and the memory of one stolen night that makes her dream of a second chance at love.
Dalton Smith has known more than his fair share of grief. Since his wife's death, he revels in the solitude of his cattle ranch. But try as he might, he can't stop thinking about the stunning redhead and the reckless, passionate night they shared. He wasn't ready before, but Dalton sees now that Jessy is the only woman who can mend his broken heart. So how will he convince her to take a chance on him?
The initial aftermath of devastation is horrific. Sometimes it takes a while for the aphorism “time heals all wounds” to come true. In Marilyn Pappano's A Love to Call Her Own, Jessy Lawrence and Dalton Smith have grief and uncomfortable memories in common—each has lost a military spouse. Complicating their sorrow is the circumstances surrounding each death. At the time of her husband’s death, Jessy’s marriage was on the skids, and Jessy wondered if her marriage would even survive. How can Jessy talk about this, even with her closest friends, the members of The Fort Murphy Widows’ Club?
Dalton’s wife committed suicide after she was horribly injured in combat but no one except Dalton knows that. Like Jessy, Dalton doesn’t believe there’s anyone he can share his feelings with and consequently, he is sad and angry, particularly since everyone sees his wife in a heroic light. He’s angry that his wife, from his perspective, didn’t have faith in their marriage. Dalton believed in the words of the marriage vows, “in sickness and death,” and he mourns the life he’ll never get to have with his wife.
Jessy is a flat-out mess. Recently fired from her mundane job at the bank, she turns even more heavily to booze, her steady companion and highway to oblivion. Every morning she repeats her mantra of “shoulds:"
She should shower. Brush that god-awful taste from her mouth. Put some drops in her eyes so they didn’t feel so puffy. Get something to eat—proteins, vegetables, carbs, fruit. She’d been subsisting on junk food and booze so long that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real meal.
But Jessy’s trip to Walmart to stock up on shoulds takes an unexpected and very sad turn. She witnesses a woman getting the phone call that every army spouse dreads—a chaplain is outside her front door. Jessy knows what that means—the woman’s husband is dead. She thinks to herself that “she could recognize a drunk from a mile away. Could a newly widowed woman recognize someone who’d been through it before?” Yes, Patricia, the new widow knows intuitively that Jessy is a kindred spirit and begs her to stay by her side. Jessy rises to the occasion and selflessly takes charge of the tragic situation. This action is the first of many changes Jessy makes in her life.
Given her druthers, Jessy runs away from uncomfortable realities—she hasn’t told her friends at the first Tuesday Night Margarita Club dinner that she was dismissed from the bank. In Jessy’s mind, her friends,
… didn’t get fired from their jobs; they didn’t keep secrets or prove themselves to be colossal losers like Jessy did. If they knew all her failings, they would lose respect for her, and she would lose the most important people in her life. Better that she stay quiet awhile longer.
Jessy and Dalton are living proof of the old saying, “You’re as sick as your secrets.” Jessy and Dalton, a few months earlier, lusted it up and the memories of that one-night stand linger on. Rancher Dalton finds himself looking for a certain red-head when he comes to town and Jessy too thinks about a man who made her feel cherished, albeit just for a night.
Oklahoma native Pappano, author of more than eighty books, is too honest a writer to abruptly shift from simmering sorrow to insta-life-affirming love. It’s Jessy’s reclaiming of her life she led before widowhood and booze that brings Dalton and Jessy together again. Jessy decides to try to stop drinking and realizes that she can’t stay cooped up inside fighting her demons. Camera in hand, she heads for the countryside and starts taking pictures of “cows and babies, trees and fence and sandstone boulders and sky.”
Something unwound in her gut, so slowly that it took her a while to realize it was tension seeping away. She’d missed this feeling of capturing a perfect moment in time, of preserving the scene, of creating something that would long outlast her. She’d needed it, needed something that wouldn’t leave her feeling ashamed as so much of her life did.
Dalton spots Jessy taking pictures on his ranch and impulsively invites her home for lunch. This is huge for him—it’s only the second time in four years he’d invited anyone to his house,
… first with Dane Clark, a soldier from Fort Murphy who had a soft spot for palominos, and now Jessy. Not only would she still have a hold on his brain, now she would be leaving memories of herself in his house, with his animals, on his property.
Memories are landmines for Jessy and Dalton. Looking back is not something either one of them does—they run from the emotions that their memories evoke. But there’s one memory that’s like a huge boulder in the road and that’s their night together. The sex was great but that’s all it was, or so they both thought at the time. After spending time together, complicating the possibility of rekindling a fire are the still smoldering embers of the one-night-stand. It’s Dalton, the taciturn rancher, who finally says out loud what they’ve both been avoiding. He says that instead of trying to forget their past,
“We could acknowledge that it”—shouldn’t have happened was what he’d intended to say, but his brain switched words on him—“was too soon, and we can…not screw it up next time. We can…know what we’re doing and…why.”
Even in the dim light from the streetlamps, he could see her expression: surprise, a little bit of anxiety, maybe even a bit of panic. He felt the same way. Damned if he knew what he was doing.
But he wouldn’t take the words back if he could.
After a wedding of mutual friends, basking in the somewhat salacious sallies of their pals, Dalton and Jessy let their feelings fly. Dalton asks Jessy if she’d like to “uh, just have dinner, uh, alone” and with a husky voice, she agrees.
Her smile came slowly, teasing and satisfied. “Good. Let’s explore your freezer.”
But the temperature certainly gets well above freezing that night! Dalton tells Jessy that after his wife Sandra’s death, “well-meaning people told me that when God closed a door, He opened a window.” That’s what Jessy and Dalton become to each other—a window to a new world, a world where they can love and be loved. It’s not easy, for both of them have become very comfortable with solitude, but they risk trying again. As I wrote earlier this year, when I took a First Look at Pappano’s A Man to Hold On To, “small-town series are so ubiquitous it’s hard to find a believable fresh twist on the perennial favorite, but this one does it.”
The third of Pappano’s Tallgrass Oklahoma novels succeeds too, bringing to mind philosopher Rumi’s poignant statement, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Jessy and Dalton’s happiness is hard-fought but theirs is a journey that’s definitely worth taking.
Learn more or order a copy of A Love to Call Her Own by Marilyn Pappano, out August 26, 2014:
Janet Webb aka @janetnorcal has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart. When I rediscovered the world of romance, my spirit guide was All About Romance's Desert Island Keepers — I started with the “A” authors and never looked back.