In The Best Man Takes a Bride, by Stacy Connelly (2018, Harlequin Special Edition, Home and Family), Jamison Porter is a single dad struggling to look after his four-year-old daughter. He had an unhappy marriage, separated, and a few months ago his wife died in car crash that also injured his daughter. His parents divorced, and now he’s the best man at the second wedding of his friend Ryder. He has a cynical attitude towards married bliss. He’s come from San Francisco to spend a few weeks in the small town of Clearville, where the bride and groom live, hoping to strengthen his relationship with his daughter.
The wedding coordinator is the eternally optimistic Rory McClaren. Rory’s had a relationship fail, and the circumstances cost her a job and hurt her employability. She’s thrown herself into making other couples’ dreams come true at a resort owned by relatives. She’s also great with kids, especially little flower girls who barely know their father, thanks to spending most of their lives with their mother and in-laws.
Jamison and Rory connect quickly and enjoy each other’s company, understanding that it’s a temporary thing. Once the wedding happens, he’ll be going back to San Fransisco, and catching up with the work he needs to do to become a partner and achieve his career dreams. In-laws who know Rory by reputation fully support that.
Will Jamison overcome his dislike of marriage? Will he give up his career dreams and the big city? Of course! It’s a romance, and the happy ending is guaranteed. But Connelly gives some good reasons why Jamison is willing to make changes in his life. His character growth is not only a response to the attractions of Clearville and Rory, but recognition of problems with current life choices. This is another technique I need to be aware of as a writer – character growth should have both a pull to something and a push away from something. And a career sacrifice may not be as great as it seems if a character reconsiders what they want from their job.
The journey to happy ending is made more pleasurable thanks to good writing, especially the use of a gazebo as a repeated location in different contexts, as a metaphor, and as a red herring. Like Coming Home to Crimson, this is a light, quick, read with humour and an easy resolution, but it’s just a touch more satisfying. The stakes are a little higher, it’s the man that transitions to small-town resident (which adds to his heroic qualities), and the transition is a little smoother.