AVAILABILITY: out of print
You always want…
Dark and dangerous Luke McGuire was everything shy Amelia Blair had been fascinated by as a girl but too terrified to go near. And now here she was, the only person in the whole town prepared to give him the time of day, caring enough to stand up for him…brave enough to get close.
What you can’t have
Luke knew that Amelia was off-limits. But, reformed or not, he’d never been able to abide by the rules. He only hoped that the quiet beauty would fall for the man he had become instead of the one he used to be.
The Return of Luke McGuire was the first category novel I ever read. This was back in 2002 and for a long time, this category novel stayed the only one. But I loved it enough and remembered it fondly enough that when I started to read category novels more regularly 1-2 years back, I bought and still buy novels by Davis even though they have a slight romantic suspense bend to it now.
The Return of Luke McGuire is one of those novels where the blurb doesn’t do the story justice. I know, this goes practically for nearly every romance novel, but I always think it especially annoying when 1) it can lead to slightly false assumptions about the story and 2) when the real story is so much more than what you would expect reading the blurb.
Yes, Amelia thinks of herself as quiet and unassuming. A mouse. But she’s determined to be the bravest mouse she could be. And as the story develops, she learns there are different kinds of strength and that perhaps hidden underneath her reserve there is a fire raging that would do her namesake Amelia Earhart justice. And yes, Amelia is drawn to Luke despite herself.
But Luke doesn’t think Amelia off-limits exactly. Sure, it’s present because he’s been the bad boy of the town and Amelia is the goody-goody girl of the town, but it’s not really as important between them as it might seem because of the back blurb. And well, Luke doesn’t see Amelia for the first time and thinks, “wow, but uhm, she’s off-limits.” His attraction is growing slowly and he starts to notice more and more things about her as he gets to know her better. He hesitates, yes, but not because he thinks himself not good enough for her or something like that.
The novel starts when Luke comes back to his home town because he received a letter from his younger brother David asking for help. Before this letter, there wasn’t actually any (real) contact between Luke and David. Luke left his home town the day after he graduated from high school and hasn’t regretted or looked back since then. Now David hopes he can come and live with Luke to escape their controlling and nasty mother, something Luke knows won’t be possible. So he isn’t sure if coming is the right move. Besides, he only has bad memories of the town and is glad he left all the nastiness he faced there behind.
But despite all of this, he does, and that is when he meets Amelia who’s a friend of David and owner of the town’s bookshop. David has acquired a worrisome set of friends trying to set off his mother and live up to his older brother’s bad boy reputation. Amelia and Luke’s concern for David brings them closer together. Without David, Amelia and Luke probably would never have talked to each other, at least not in Luke’s home town where just his being back brings out some of his old reactions to the way people treat him. They assume the worst of him because of his history and he doesn’t bother to show them he’d changed. But there is David. And trying to help David brings Amelia and Luke closer together, makes Amelia discover new things about herself, and makes Luke face his past and deal with it in a way so that he really can leave it all behind.
If there is one thing where this novel falters a bit it’s the way the villains are depicted. David’s nasty friends are up to some very bad things but I thought what they are willing to do in the end, though actually believable, still a bit out of nowhere. But more than that, I thought the people’s antagonism towards Luke slightly overdone. He did some cruel and bad things in his youth, yes, but that was nearly ten years ago. When he comes back, nobody (except Amelia of course) gives him the benefit of the doubt, they just assume the worst. Even more, they go and outright say it to him. I don’t know, I just thought that really rude and intolerant, and that everyone was like that was just a bit hard to believe. (To be fair, there is some change at the end with some people, but still.)
But that is just a very small complaint. The Return of Luke McGuire offers more than enough to make up for it. There’s the believable and slowly developing romance between two people who look like they have nothing in common and only meet because of special circumstances, Amelia and Luke. There’s the relationship between the brothers Luke and David that starts out with Luke as David’s hero for all the wrong reasons and that needs to adjust as the story and characters develop. There’s David’s struggle with growing up and finding his own way. There’s Luke’s struggle with his past and what his mother did to him (IMO the most important thread of the story). And there’s Amelia who makes all this possible and who discovers that maybe she was wrong to think of herself as a mouse.
Verdict: Despite my disbelief about the total rudeness of all people, 5/5.