TycoonI’ve waited a long time for a Molly O’Keefe romance and I’m awfully glad it arrived, finally, in The Tycoon. Which is not to say that Mo’K was idle. The direction her books had taken, however, was not to my taste or sensibility. I measure O’Keefe’s efforts and contemporary romance in general against the greatness that is her Crooked Creek Ranch series. Would this measure up? Delving into The Tycoon, I came smack-dab up against one of those O’Keefe directions I haven’t enjoyed: first-person narration, and a mannered one at that. After the first few pages, I thought The Tycoon was much like an HP with first-person narration. I had to readjust my expectations, give the book a fighting chance … because O’Keefe (I’d loved O’Keefe’s Super-romances so so much).

The Tycoon had one thing going for it that made me stay with it, a superb premise. As you may already know, I’ve been interested in the romance’s “dark moment” (when the HEA is most at stake for the romance couple) as one of betrayal, when one or the other of protagonists does something so wrong, the wrong-doing’s recipient, whether direct or caught in “friendly fire,” may not be able to forgive the other. The Tycoon opens with a doozy of a betrayal (infidelity is one betrayal that a romance cannot recover from, btw, unless in the hands of masters like Mary Balogh. I’m looking at you Counterfeit Betrayal).

Twenty-two-year-old Veronica King is preparing for her extravagant engagement party. Her fiancé is her father’s business-right-hand-man, the “tycoon” Clayton Rorick. Dressed in party finery, Veronica “Ronnie” walks into her father’s office where Clayton and Hank King are arguing over a deal, the deal happens to be Veronica herself in exchange for twenty acres of land Clayton wants. Every memory of affection, sexual fulfillment, and fun Veronica has of Clayton crumbles, losing all their joy and meaning. Sister Bea and Ronnie leave for Austin where Ronnie makes a life for herself without her father, or Clayton. She finishes school, takes care of hapless Bea, buys a small house, acquires two dogs, Thelma and Louise, and starts a business helping women achieve financial independence, Her Safety Net Accounting and Investments. Five years after her flight from Dallas, her father, and Clayton, Clayton finds her in the café below her office, with the news that her father died and she is requested at the funeral and will reading. She returns to the King ranch where Clayton works towards getting her back, proving to her that he did love her, and slowly revealing the reasons behind his hurtful actions.

O’Keefe navigates Clayton’s redemption beautifully, keeping mainly to Ronnie’s POV, but occasionally giving us a glimpse of Clayton’s. First, it must be said that Ronnie has grown. Her independence and commitment to struggling women has made her bolder, more open, confident, and snarky (which is a lot of fun). On the other hand, Clayton’s rejection has romantically stalled Veronica: she hasn’t dated or taken a lover since. In cases of betrayal, take for example, Mr. Rochester’s in Jane Eyre, the hero must endure a great trial and suffering to become, finally, worthy of the heroine. This is as true of O’Keefe’s hero as of Brontë’s. Clayton has imposed five years of abstinence on himself. He has worked only and for Veronica eventually taking over her father’s company. He has made himself an emotional exile. Being without Veronica is punishment enough for Clayton, given how much he loved her.

The pleasure of O’Keefe’s novel lies in Clayton and Veronica’s relationship negotiations. Because Clayton doesn’t endure a “trial by fire,” like Mr. Rochester, he must endure the fire of Veronica’s anger. And Veronica’s anger is pretty sharp-tongued impressive. But as O’Keefe peels away at Clayton’s betraying appearance to the loving heart that beats only for his “Ronnie”, we gain in sympathy for him, as Ronnie does too. O’Keefe’s banter is as great as Ronnie and Clayton’s more heartfelt exchanges. One that skirts both and is neither exclusively will give you a taste:

“Do you like dogs?” I blurted.

He laughed. “Yes.”

“Can you swim?”

“What’s going on here?”

“These are things I never found out about you. And if we’re going to do this, I’m going to be informed.”

“I can swim. I don’t love it. But I can do it.”

“How did you vote in the last election?”

“Politics? So soon?”

“You can’t lie.”

“I voted Democrat.” Relief, deep in my belly. He pushed the wine glass toward me.

I had a nice, long chuckle over this … FantaMan has permeated how we judge our romance heroes. In this Canadian heart, I’m all right with that. It’s a good measuring rod. It also gives you a good idea of how clever and sly O’Keefe’s humour is, how nicely drawn her characters are, and how much we care for them both as a result. The Tycoon kept me reading through the evening and late in the night to its gloriously HEA-ending. It’s good to have O’Keefe back. Category-length, HP-accoutremented, bold, beautiful, big heroine, a strong, stalwart, loyal, and humble hero, organic-to-the-romance love scenes, and O’Keefe’s penchant for original and startling metaphor, The Tycoon is one of the year’s pure-romance gems. With Miss Austen, we say that it is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Molly O’Keefe’s The Tycoon is self-published. It was released on July 12th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from the author.