Don’t let Kate Hewitt’s light-hearted Falling Hard cover fool you into thinking this is a rom-com. Falling Hard has hard and difficult truths for its hero and heroine: they’re either living them, heroine Meghan O’Reilly, or living with them, hero Quinn Freeman. Falling Hard opens innocuously when Quinn’s mother, Margo, asks him to return to their home town, Creighton Falls, New York, to renovate a hotel the family lived in and owned until they abandoned the town and took their wealth and success to New York. Ah, thought MissB, typical charmingly roguish, wealthy but drifting bad boy hero receives his comeuppance by small-town cute and a more-than-capable Amazonian heroine. Miss Bates should’ve known that Hewitt always delivers more than that: more complexity, more nuance, more vulnerability. And vulnerable they are; Miss Bates would even say two of the most heart-breakingly sad protagonists she’s read. Which only makes their HEA, of course, the more deserving.
Quinn was not, initially, easy to warm to. He was immature, maybe petulant, young for his 28-years: not much charm in someone who drifts from exotic locale to exotic locale, bartending, beach-bumming, and living off his family’s wealth. When his mother asks him to renovate the hotel in order to prepare it for sale, he reluctantly agrees. His reluctance, however, isn’t borne of laziness, but a genuine fear of returning to the place that marks his family’s dissolution: the drowning accident that caused his father’s death when Quinn was six and that he was implicated in. Compared to his brother, Adam, a surly, hard man who runs the family wealth and do-gooder second bro, Jacob, Quinn is the family baby and drop-out, a spoiled black sheep. But return he does and resolves to cursorily repair the hotel by hiring local workmen and get the hell out of Dodge to return to his dissipated peripatetic life. And yet, we get to know Quinn as he goes about his hotel-repair business in Creighton Falls, with comments like “He hated feeling useless, unneeded. It was what had driven him from home.” Quinn is a rogue in charm only: he yearns for purpose and redemption, plagued by his family disapproval, low expectations, and assumptions that a little beach-bumming is all he’s good for.
Looking for work-men to take on the decrepit hotel, Quinn meets O’Reilly of O’Reilly Plumbing, Meghan, no work-man, but work-woman and a blue-eyed, dark-haired sharp-tongued beauty. Meghan’s contempt for the pretty rich boy, whom she remembers vaguely from her wrong-side-of-tracks and his golden-spoon childhood, is evident in her first impression: “He wore the mantle of privilege and money carelessly.” Quinn keeps guilt, uncertainty, and shame buried deep and covers them with a devil-may-care veneer. But he can’t hide his attraction to Meghan and soon thereafter propositions her. Add to his drifter lifestyle, promiscuity and one-night-stands.
Add to Meghan’s life a load of complications that make it impossible for her to enjoy a relationship, which brings us to this pretty wonderful heroine. Meghan at 28 is what Meghan took on at 16. A mother who abandoned her and sister Polly and a father who ran to drink for solace and still lives a few miles away and yet doesn’t share or help with Meghan’s burdens. Meghan gave up college and a fiancé to care for her sister, Polly, now 23. Polly has been diagnosed with PDD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Meghan’s sacrifice is one of love. Miss Bates was moved by it and here is one of her favourite exchanges, when Quinn asks Meghan about Polly: ” ‘You live with her.’ ‘She’s … she needs me.’ … he didn’t press, simply accepted the situation for what it was.” Meghan’s “she needs me” and Quinn quiet acceptance show hero and heroine in the best light: Meghan has given up a life of dating, travel, and opportunity to care for Polly. She’s done so without guilt, but with the idea that Polly is precious. And Quinn, the man who doubts his ability to care for anything or anyone, shows her understanding and empathy without prying, or gushing.
There is no resentment in Hewitt’s Meghan, but Hewitt has also made it beautifully clear that her choices haven’t been easy: “She felt a familiar pain settle underneath her breastbone. Loneliness.” There is no regret in Meghan either, not for Polly and, Miss Bates loved this, not for staying in Creighton Falls, “She loved Creighton Falls, always would, even if sometimes she felt stuck.” Meghan is loyal and loving, but she’s lonely and Quinn is her chance to have ” a little pleasure” as it’s “all that she could get.” Hewitt does a great job of showing us that a hero and heroine who can feel love, make sacrifices, be burdened by debt to family and place, cannot be people for whom a one-night-stand can stand. A romance divided against itself cannot stand and a one-night stand romance is none at all. Miss Bates loved Quinn’s growing realization of how good it feels to take care of someone, especially Meghan who’s seen so little of care, “No one had leaned on him, ever. But right now he wished one woman would.” And Meghan taking that bit of joy and pleasure in Quinn, being who she is, she cannot NOT recognize his pain too. (When the betrayal comes, it is subtle, a painful nick which may not, ostensibly, appear as more than oversight, but it is thoroughly in keeping with who Hewitt’s protagonists are.)
Miss Bates admits it took her a while to warm to Falling Hard, thanks to the beach-bum playboy hero, at least at first, who turned out to be anything but. However, when Meghan walked into Quinn’s hotel, MissB. was a goner. And even more so for Hewitt’s portrait of Creighton Falls, a town that needs a resurrection, as much as one loving, giving woman does … and how lovely to have none other than a black sheep take on the care and love of both. Miss Bates dragged her reading companion, Miss Austen, into embracing Falling Hard and says of it: “real comfort,” Emma.
Kate Hewitt’s Falling Hard is published by Tule Publishing. It was released in March 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Tule Publishing, via Netgalley.