Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80496-4
Historical Romance, 1999
Lucas Garnett, resident Lothario of the town of Maple Falls, is in trouble. He is the only eligible man left in town, and too many amorous ladies are out for his… tail. Poor man hasn’t had a good night sleep in days. You see, every other man over 16 and under 60 has left for the Gold Rush. And what seems to be every lusty man’s fantasy – to be surrounded by lonely women – is turning into something out of Lucas’s control.
In desperation, Lucas turns to his good friend Priscilla Wentworth. Priscilla is the town spinster and everybody’s good friend because she is willing to help anybody and take part in every town charity and affairs. Priscilla will pretend to be Lucas’ new fiancée, and in turn Lucas will help Priscilla find a good husband.
Author Susan Kay Law explores the age old question in this Americana romance – can a man and woman be “just friends”? For indeed Lucas and Priscilla are good friends. Their mothers are good friends and these two grow up together as a result. Lucas sees Priscilla as a prim and proper little sister, a bit starchy and upright. He couldn’t imagine Priscilla getting married – ever. Priscilla views Lucas as a charming big brother whose charm and roguish smile has twisted a knot in too many women. Pity the woman who marries such a man, for surely there is never a sorrier candidate for matrimony than Lucas. Right?
Naturally, complications occur as the masquerade progresses. Both begin to feel an uncomfortable attraction to each other. The author must be credited for creating such strong sexual tension between these two people – you can almost feel the stretched tension between them. When all this unresolved sexual tension snaps, boy, it really snaps.
Fans impatient for new books by Pamela Morsi will surely enjoy this one. Characterization is simply superb – there is no cardboard villain leering and talking in overwrought prose here. Priscilla is a woman who, despite her bright facade, is actually a lonely woman bored out of her wits. She is prevented by her mother to do anything worthwhile with herself. With Lucas she slowly sees herself as a beautiful person and realizes her self-worth. She also gains confidence to confront her mother. Oh, and watching her fry a particularly insistent and malicious paramour of Lucas is simply worth the price of the book alone!
Lucas starts out as a slick Casanova with just one thing on his mind, but as the story progresses, he shows some depth and I begin to care for him. His phobia for commitment isn’t anything new in terms of romance heroes, but is understandable considering his parents’ really horrific and dysfunctional marriage. He is a kind man who loves children and secretly longs for a family but he just dare not make promises he fears he can’t keep.
And an added pleasure is the way the author populates the book with fully-fleshed secondary characters. The lead characters’ mothers all are strong women with hidden pain. Priscilla’s sister Jeanette, who alternates between missing and hating her absent husband, deserves her own book. Lucas’ paramours are not evil, scheming hussies. With the men gone and the economy of Maple Falls dying slowly, these women are forced to eke out a living and their lives are dependent on Lucas’ charities and kind heart. Lonely, tired, fed-up with life, Lucas becomes the object of their gratitude and their only way to ease their drudgery. When Lucas realizes this, it is a humbling realization for this man.
The Last Man in Town is really fun, plus it has wonderfully wicked repartees between Lucas and Priscilla. Consider this exchange when Lucas, puzzled and bewildered, confront Priscilla on her choice of husband:
“By the way,” he broke in cheerfully, “did I tell you about my old friend Calvin Putnam? Owns a flour mill down by Sauk Rapids. Decent fellow, widowed almost two years now. But then, I’m sure he’s too dull for you. Probably shouldn’t bother – ”
“I like dull. I adore dull. Excitement is highly overrated, as I’m sure you are only too painfully aware. So transitory. So… insubstantial.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Enough.”
“Enough, I said. I promise to find you someone so dull and dependable and downright reliable you’ll sleep through the wedding.”
“Not to mention the wedding night.”