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Tough Talk, Tender Kisses is book 2 of Deborah Camp’s Too Tough/Tough Man series. I began this series with anticipation, however right now have to say I’m going down that slippery slope of disappointment. Even though I still like the author’s writing style and all that, the characters in this series are really trying my patience!
I’m a big fan of the author’s more recent western historical publications such as Solitary Horseman or Lonestar’s Lady. However this particular series was first published in the 90s and maybe, the storyline and the character kind of show the datedness (?). The first book, Too Tough to Tame was the story of a small town doctor’s assistance and a Native American warrior. The heroine, Tess meets Storm in His Eyes under a very uncommon circumstance, where she was kidnapped then was forced to take care of the bullet wounds on him. With the demeaning way white folks viewed and treated Indian people, maybe that’s why Storm’s cousin thought this is how he could get some help for him. But apparently Tess didn’t have the same kind of hatred for the Indians so after the initial shock, she was happy to be taking care of the ‘manly’ Storm In His Eyes. Tess’s blonde beauty and Storm’s aforementioned ‘manly attributes’ playing a vital role, their romance (or ‘lust at first sight’ as I called it) takes off. It wasn’t an easy road to travel but they finally find their HEA after many ups and downs, revenge and a few murders.
Book 2 isn’t directly connected to book 1 as it takes place several years afterwards. The H and h of Tough Talk, Tender Kisses weren’t ever introduced in there. In fact, they lived in a different state and were first introduced under a very different set of circumstance. Book 2 opens up with Adele Bishop, a restaurant manager in Whistle Stop, which was also built near a train station, waiting for her ‘mail order husband’ to arrive, much to the dismay (and amusement) of the townspeople. The daughter of a known do-gooder, who was also a very open minded woman, Adele had grown up with a mindset very different than the people she has to deal with everyday. Adele’s father died when she was but a child, and her mother just a few years ago, leaving her an orphan and quite alone in the world. Well, except for Sally, a girl she’d befriended in her teens when she was living in Kansas years ago with her aunt’s family while her mother was busy traveling for her own causes. Sally married Winston, the cousin who was more interested in Adele than her. But Adele knew she wasn’t interested in Winston. Not in the way she was interested in his friend, the wild soul called Reno Gold. Sally later followed her to Whistle Stop after Winston died.
Adele and Reno had a short, innocent fling back in Kansas that ended abruptly. Reno was a bit older and definitely more worldly than her. An orphan with a mishmash of heritage (Indian, Gypsy you name it he had it!), Reno had a tough life even though he dealt with every challenge coming his way with his usual charm. He was devastatingly handsome even then and Adele could never quite figure him out. After the sad end of their innocent ‘first love story’, Adele moved too. She’s been living in Whistle Stop a few years now, creating a life for herself. She’s gorgeous (or so I read from every man there, including Reno’s account) with dark hair and green eyes, yet determined to remain a spinster. The few rough-around-the-edges bachelors that remain in this rough and tumble town, had been proposing Adele or hinted at their interests since she arrived. But she being literate and a lady, they couldn’t really come on strong. Besides, Adele would give them one of her ‘looks’ that said stay the f away and they scurried away like rats.
Well, most did, except for one. Tyler Terrapin, the owner of the one and only saloon cum bordello of the town. Adele despised the man for the way he earned money and how nasty he was overall. He gave her the creeps and yet, he was determined to have her marry him in any way possible. So far, Adele had avoided that fate. But the way Tyler pretty much terrorized the town making himself the so-called King of Whistle Stop, she wasn’t sure how long she could fend off his advances. And besides she hated the way men here ‘ordered’ mail-order brides and how roughly majority were treated once they arrived. The theory and everything behind it. So she was determined to give them a taste of their own medicine (or so I thought it was). A plan hatched and Adele placed an ad, never in her wildest dreams imagining Reno Gold of all people will reply to her! She really didn’t have any intentions of marrying the man anyway cause she was doing it just to make a point, yet she couldn’t help sending affirmation to Reno with money so he could travel to Whistle Stop.
Funny was it was, Reno had no intentions of marrying Adele either. It’s been too long since he’d seen her, and the temptation to see her again was too strong. The advert both intrigued and equally confused him. Knowing how beautiful she is (or was), Reno was confused why she’d feel the need?! Everything culminated into one odd situation where Reno found himself not only on the train bound towards Whistle Top, but also drinking like a green boy meeting his first ladylove, which he most definitely wasn’t. Reno Gold–who was known for making his surname into a reality–was a self-made man. He went to Montana in search of gold, became one of the very few people who actually struck lucky when many others died or became destitute trying to make their dreams a reality. He also found a reliable partner and made more in investments. But Reno wasn’t really interested in informing Adele of any of this. Hell he wasn’t even certain how things will be once he sees her again, let alone that he’d be dead drunk and out as soon as he’s off the train. So much for making any kind of impression on her!
Adele, seeing as Reno went down like a log in front of her, was far from amused. She was fuming. To her, it was the typical Reno who was not at all concerned with life and any kind of consequences. Always charming, never serious. She promptly marked him as a useless—albeit still devastatingly handsome—ne’er-do-well. And this went on for the better part of the story; her assumption that Reno will never change, with prickly, sometimes even demeaning, commentaries to go with it. But initially it seemed that she still had the hots for Reno, who returned the feeling. Neither were interested in marriage in the beginning, and though Adele’s negative comments made Reno quite unhappy, he was determined to change her mind soon. Reno settled down in Whistle Stop to see where this goes between them, while Adele tries to act like she didn’t care one whit to get entangled with him, all the while giving away that she wanted all that and more. She was more often than not angry at Reno and feet-stomping jealous however much she denied it. After all, Reno had manly needs and Adele knew if she isn’t catering to them soon, he will look for replacements. He told her as much, not knowing he said those things just to rile her up. She expected him to stay celibate of course because she could never make up her mind about Reno’s place in her life. *eyeroll* Adele would never give him the chance to explain about his financial status. Then Reno would get angry with Adele’s pinching comments, they’d fight and he’d stomp away in frustration.
Even though they had this mad chemistry burning, halfway through the book I began losing my patience with Adele. I thought her to be a smart, open-minded woman with a sound head on her shoulders and boy she fooled me in those first few chapters! The more I saw her around Reno, the more an extremely stubborn, immature girl emerged. Her judgmental attitude towards Reno was so bad that it left a bad taste in my mouth. It even extended towards the prostitutes working for Terrapin, until Reno made her see things differently. I don’t know WHY Reno stuck by and let himself be the target and WHY won’t he come clean about his success story. Just tell her to SHUT HER MOUTH and listen to him. But then, Adele had marked him down SO LOW in the rung of her high and mighty ladder of estimation that it was ridiculous. It’s like she made up her mind that Reno will never be a better man. There will never be any substance under that beautiful exterior and that was that. Though Reno let her believe that for a while but even when he tried to tell her, she won’t listen to him. You’d just have to read to see how she’d interrupt as if she hasn’t even been listening to what he was saying or hinting at, lost as she was in her own judgmental bubble!
I adored Reno and felt so bad for him because I realized that that touch of first love had never left him. That had to be why he remained. He’d loved Adele since they met as youngsters and had always, always wanted her above anyone despite their circumstances. He was still in love and cared for her enough to let himself be a target of the kind of sh!t Adele would spew continuously when they were having a disagreement, which was pretty much always. Even when they finally got married, with Adele asking for a marriage in name only, Reno agreed, hoping to change her mind someday. But it was becoming very difficult for him to handle her disdain and they’d fight as often as possible for a couple. That went on even after they finally consummated their marriage. One moment they were going at it like the bunnies, the next morning there’s something that’d trigger Adele and she’d once again show Reno just how much she doesn’t trust him and how pathetic she thought he was. Even when FINALLY Reno told her about his fortune after a particular scene, Adele just laughed it off. FREAKING LAUGHED IT OFF! She couldn’t believe Reno Gold is that filthy rich! Nope, not her!!
And THAT was the point I pretty much lost it. Like WHY THE HELL did you marry him b!tch? Why keep tormenting him that way then acting like you didn’t mean to? You either believe in him, give him a chance or you let him go! There are limits to everything and Adele was on the verge of crossing every single one of them.
I wanted Reno to leave and never look back. But a fool in love is what he was and though hurt, he was still around; especially knowing that he’d riled Terrapin up more often than was necessary and he was on to them. It could get nasty any moment now. But Reno wanted to do something to remove Terrapin from this town and was going by his plans, even if it was quite dangerous. He wanted Whistle Stop to be a safe place if Adele was calling it her home now. Also for the townspeople who had accepted him. But of course Adele had no faith in him and often berated Reno for his ‘rashness’ while always ignoring when her own idiocy were pointed out. Later she’d realize she’d been an idiot, that her pride may have gotten her into a very tight spot with Reno but she couldn’t even bring herself to apologize, let alone learning anything from her mistakes. It kept going on and on and on until maybe the last few chapters. By then I’d given up on this book.
Truth be told, Adele’s behavior took a toll on me. By 70% of the book I was so freakin’ fed up I wanted it to end. I could care less whatever happened to her or even Reno anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the story was interesting and there were some neat twists and turns and Reno was a treat himself but you can just take so much of one individual’s—here one of the main character—BS.
The story aside, I kept thinking how did this book connect to book 1? I’ve already determined that there was no direct connection through our h and H. As I read on, I realized that the connection was made through 2 distinct secondary characters of this book. One was a young, beautiful prostitute named Little Nugget who worked for Terrapin and was also his ‘girl’. After meeting her in this story I had this déjà vu until the name ‘Tess’ came up. Then I remembered this was the same little girl (of about 10) that Tess, the h of book 1, saved from a bullet wound! She was from a poor family with many siblings and a father who had been chasing the dream of striking it rich in goldmines; a dream that, of course, never came true. Nugget, whose real name is Cassie Little, had grown up! Fast forward a few years, she’d left her family to live on her own because she got fed up catering to the whims of her selfish dad after her mom passed away. And now this was her life; the sad story of any girl without protection from the dark sides of the world.
The other character was a villain in book 1 who escaped in the end. In here, he seemed as sleazy as ever if not more. I had this idiotic notion that the author may do something to redeem him cause I saw this spark of something in him a few times that I thought maybe a sign. More fool me. He’s just...well, let’s just say it’s simply not gonna happen.
Overall, a disappointing end to a story that I initially thought would be a fantastic read. 3.5 stars but barely made it.