A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for an honest review at Romancing Rakes For The Love of Romance.
Always On My Mind is the newest entry in the Lucky Harbor small town contemporary series by Jill Shalvis, and a perfect example of why this series stands out in a category filled with so many other excellent competitors. In Always On My Mind, Jill Shalvis employs some of the most familiar romance tropes in such a way that they feel fresh and perfectly chosen to show how the past between its hero and heroine will become their present if they don’t heed the lessons learned this second time around.
Leah Sullivan has returned to her childhood home of Lucky Harbor to help run her grandmother’s bakery while that woman recovers from knee surgery, but doesn't intend to stay longer than she can help it. In Lucky Harbor, everybody knows everybody else’s business, and the last thing she wants is to be in the middle of all that when her appearance on the reality show competition, Sweet Wars, reaches its final episode.
When Jack Harper finds out that Leah is back in town, he’s not sure if he wants anything to do with her. They had been close friends back when Leah’s family still lived in Lucky Harbor, and only Jack knew how hard her family life had really been. She’d hurt him when she left town and it appeared to him that she’d never really stopped running. Ever since then, Jack had used his dangerous firefighter job as an excuse for never committing to a lasting relationship with anyone. But that didn't mean that Leah’s return would change anything, no matter what his ideas his mother Dee might have.
It’s clear from how Jack and Leah cautiously circle around each other in public that there’s more to their past than just a close childhood friendship, but it’s only when Leah claims a real relationship with Jack in an attempt to cheer up Dee that all hell breaks loose. The fake/pretend relationship romance trope is one of my favorites, and the way Jill Shalvis executes it in this story is something I haven’t seen very often. Because for both Jack and Leah, pretending they are dating and in love is genuinely painful, and it stirs up emotions that they both had thought were buried for good.
The town of Lucky Harbor with all its familiar characters and goings-on is the perfect setting for Jack and Leah’s story, providing a genuine sense of why each of them made the life choices which first kept them apart and now might finally bring them back together for good. But what I loved best about Always On My Mind was how Jill Shalvis neatly side-stepped the various plot devices that might have been used by a less sure-handed writer. Just because we all know there will be a Happily Ever After ending doesn't mean that the route there has to be simplistic or obvious. There were several points during the book where I thought something specific was definitely going to happen as the various subplots wound down, yet I was happy to be wrong every time.
It’s rare for a writer with a long-running series to hit it out of the park every single time. But Jill Shalvis has done exactly that with Always On My Mind. I highly recommend it to both longtime fans of the series and new readers, as it’s now officially my favorite Lucky Harbor book.
Leah stopped at the foot of the stage and looked up at Jack. “I was wrong,” she said.
Jack curled a hand around his ear, like he hadn't caught her words.
“I was wrong,” she repeated.
“Oh, I heard you.” He smiled. “I just like the sound of the words on your lips.”