Will Lyman, an agent with the FBI, has been sent to Kentucky to investigate some questionable winnings at the horse tracks. Just when he believes he is tying up the case as they watch for the criminal to pick up their $5,000 bait money, a beautiful woman appears in the barn, looks into the sack that contains the money, and then picks it up and walks off. Will is close to speechless. How could such an easy assignment go so wrong and who was that woman?
Molly Ballard has just quit her job as groomer at the Kentucky stable and has come to pick up her final check. She accidentally finds the bait money and on a whim - takes it! She is beside herself with worry but is totally broke and she is responsible for the care of her four younger siblings. She is sure that no one saw her take the money and figures it is money that was earned illegally anyway. Within hours, a gorgeous man in a distinguished suit appears at her door sporting a FBI bag and a tape of her taking the bait money.
Will Lyman takes in the young lady's surroundings and determines that she is probably just plain desperate. She lives in a very run down home and is barely surviving financially as she takes care of her two brothers and two sisters. He decides to let her off the hook and not charge her with theft. Then he discovers that his informant has died and returns to asks (really demands) Molly to participate in the sting operation. To enable easy communication during the sting, Will acts the role of her boyfriend.
This was a really good, enjoyable story. Karen Robards can write some good male leads and I believe Will Lyman is one of her best yet. You just like being around this guy. It was a stretch for me to accept that he is fifteen years older than Molly. He has an eighteen-year-old son and it doesn't seem to fit with his other personality traits that he would be attracted to someone so much younger than himself. Molly is supposed to be a really kind person but she treats others with disdain more than kindness. She is protective and loving towards her siblings under her care but she is also quite prickly.
Eventually Will and Molly develop an attraction to each other that neither has pursued but cannot ignore. He is pure sophistication, from Chicago, and apparently lives the good life. Molly has only a high school education, is actually poor, and has never had any real advantages in her life. She has not been exposed to many refinements but is basically a good, hard working person. Her prickly nature is due to many hardships as she grew up.
I was engrossed in this story until half way through the book. Robards had managed to write a fresh story that was interesting on every page. Then, without warning, the author introduces one of the most overused, maddening romance novel plot lines. I just had to put the book down for a while. I felt betrayed. Molly discovers that she loves Will and realizes that there is no future for them. She decides the best way to handle her newly found feelings is to treat him with hate. She kicks into high hateful gear, treating Will with a huge amount of disdain when he has done nothing wrong, and doesn't speak to him unless it is with meanness. This "I love you so I must treat you as I hate you" is one of my least favorite things about romance writing. Fortunately, Will does not accept this treatment from her and ignores her. He has recognized her game and will not play into it. This contrived misunderstanding is the turning point of the book. Although I did not appreciate this particular turn of events, I kept reading and, with relief, found this situation did not drag on for long. This is the reason for a four star rating rather than a five star.
The story is actually very tender. There are only a couple of sensual scenes and they rate no more than a three out of five (see More About Me for rating guidelines). The story does not need any more sensual pages - it is just right for the framework of the book.
Although the heroine stretches the limits of realism more than once, it is a book that I would read again some day. After all, romance writing is not very realistic. How could we depend on those happy endings if it were not? It is a pleasurable read with some degree of depth. I could actually read two more books with this hero starting today!