Smooth Talking Stranger

By: Lisa Kleypas

Series: Travis Family

Book Number: 3

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Spoiler Disclaimer


After growing up in an unstable home with a self-centered mother who had a string of men coming and going from their lives, Ella Varner learned not to depend on anyone but herself. Always the responsible one, she looked out for her younger sister, Tara, when they were kids but now, as an adult, she's had to distance herself from both her mother and the almost equally troubled Tara. She has built a stable life for herself as a respected advice columnist, and believing she doesn't want any of the stereotypical feminine trappings of marriage or motherhood, she has a boyfriend whose priorities match her own. But when she receives shocking news that Tara has given birth to a baby that Ella didn't even know she was carrying and has abandoned him with their selfish mother who doesn't want anything to do with him, Ella must once again step up to the plate for her dysfunctional family.

Traveling from her home in Austin to Houston, Ella takes over the care of baby Luke, intending only to keep him until she finds the baby's father and makes him take responsibility. She has reason to believe that man is none other than Jack Travis, the middle son of one of the wealthiest families in Texas. Determined to get him to take a paternity test, she marches into his office with fiery resolve. Although he insists that Luke isn't his, he reluctantly agrees to Ella's demands, but it soon becomes apparent that he was actually telling the truth. Then Ella is hit with the surprising realization that she's become attached to little Luke in a very short period of time, at just the time when she has no other option but to keep him while Tara undergoes treatment in a mental health facility. However, when her boyfriend refuses to allow an infant in their shared apartment, Jack steps in to offer help despite bearing no obligation to either of them. The more Ella gets to know the consummate playboy, the more she becomes attached to him as well, putting all her carefully laid plans for her life in jeopardy as she discovers that the idea of being a wife and mother no longer scare her. But when Tara returns for Luke and Jack's life is endangered by a storm will all of Ella's new dreams be lost?


Smooth Talking Stranger is the third book in Lisa Kleypas's Travis series, a family saga that's part romance, part women's fiction. I've allowed a lot of time to pass in between reading the books of this series, but thankfully this one stands nicely on its own and I was able to remember the supporting characters well enough that I never felt lost. This volume is about middle brother, Jack, a consummate wealthy playboy who appears to have no interest in settling down anytime soon until Ella shows up on his doorstep with her infant nephew, Luke, in tow. Ella believes that Jack is the baby's father and has no intention of leaving until he takes a DNA test to prove it. Even though he doesn't turn out to be the baby daddy, he generously offers to help Ella when her own boyfriend refuses to have an infant in the house. This leads to all kinds of feelings building between the two, but Ella has always considered herself independent and has no real interest in marrying or having kids, nor does she intend to rely on Jack long-term. But when Luke and Jack both worm their way into her heart, Ella is going to have a hard time saying goodbye to either of them.

Ella's father abandoned his family when she and her sister, Tara, were quite young, leaving them with a narcissistic mother who thought the entire world revolved around her. With a near-constant stream of men coming and going from their lives, Ella and Tara experienced a very unstable upbringing that included one of the men abusing Tara. Ella was always the one protecting Tara and picking up the pieces when anything in their family fell apart, so as an adult, she distanced herself from both her mother and Tara for her own mental health. She's now a successful advice columnist with ambitions of writing a book and has a live-in boyfriend who she thinks is all she wants in a man. Dane doesn't desire marriage or a family any more than she does, and he respects her independence, so it seems like the perfect relationship. But her life is turned upside down when her mother calls, saying that Tara left a baby with her and that if Ella doesn't come get him, she'll call social services. Ella drops everything to make the long drive from Austin to Houston, and even though she has no real experience with babies, she becomes Luke's sole caregiver. However, she's determined to find the baby's father, and she thinks that guy is Jack. When she discovers it's not him, she intends to return to Austin until Dane absolutely refuses to help her in any way with the baby, including allowing her to bring him into their shared apartment. That's when Jack steps in, offering her a place to stay in his building. Thinking that it's only going to be temporary until Tara is released from the mental health facility where she's staying, Ella reluctantly agrees. However, being in close proximity with Jack every day is a temptation she isn't sure she wants to explore, but one that proves impossible to resist.

Ella is the first-person narrator, so everything is colored by her POV. She's a very liberated woman who rejects traditional norms. She thought she was happy in her childless relationship with Dane, but she really didn't know what she was missing until motherhood was thrust upon her unexpectedly, closely followed by her meeting Jack. Although she's rather resistant to both Luke and Jack at first, they both turn out to be revelations to her. Ella thinks she's only going to be caring for little Luke until Tara comes home, but by the time that happens, she's fallen madly in love with him, as well as with the idea of being a mom, and doesn't want to let him go. Then there's Jack, who she thinks is everything she doesn't want in a man, but he turns out to have hidden depths. He gives her the support Dane refused to offer and she discovers an off-the-charts sexual chemistry with him she didn't even think was possible. Even though Ella is quite a bit different from me personality-wise, I still felt like I generally understood her. Lisa Kleypas does an excellent job with the characterization of someone who had the type of upbringing Ella did, which made her relatable despite the differences in our temperaments.

Jack is one of Houston's most eligible bachelors who seemingly has a different woman on his arm every week. With his wealth, good looks, and the Travis name behind him, he has no shortage of ladies panting after him. But most of them are only in it for his money or the prestige of dating a Travis. None of them truly know the real Jack. When Ella barges into his office demanding a paternity test, he's somewhat annoyed but also intrigued. Even though he knows he's not the father, he's willing to do whatever it takes to prove it to the stubborn lady, and when he finds out about Dane's rejection, he doesn't hesitate to step up to help in spite of having no obligation to do so. He keeps coming around and proves to be quite good with Luke as well, showing that he's great father material. I particularly loved how supportive he is. Most of the time he's an easy-going charmer and the "smooth-talker" of the title, but he does have an alpha possessive streak in him that skated a little close to pushing my buttons a couple of times. However, most of the time I really liked him. Despite only seeing him through Ella's perspective, I got a pretty good sense of who he was, but occasionally I still found myself wishing I was able to see inside his head a little more.

Overall, Smooth Talking Stranger was another great addition to the Travis series. I'm classifying it as women's fiction as well as romance, because a large part of the story's focus is on Ella and her problems, as well as her figuring out what she really wants out of life when faced with the possibility that it might not be what she always thought it was. She and Jack are a classic case of opposites attracting, but in spite of their differences they still fit together quite well. I loved Ella for stepping up to the plate to care for Luke, and I loved Jack for his patience and supportiveness. The secondary characters, including all the remaining members of the Travis family, rounded out the cast nicely. The story itself was well-written with my only two small complaints being that occasionally it was a little slow-paced and I did pick up on a lot of repetitious words that a more skillful edit should have caught. The book wasn't 100% perfect, but it did come close and turned out to be a very pleasant and enjoyable read. I'm now looking forward to learning more about youngest brother, Joe, and seeing what kind of woman it takes to pin him down in the final book of the series, Brown-Eyed Girl.


Lisa Kleypas


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