Liberty Jones grew up with a single mother on the wrong side of the tracks in her small Texas hometown. When her mother became pregnant later in life and gave birth to a baby girl, Liberty couldn't seem to help caring for her little sister like she was her own child. As a teenager, Liberty fell in love with her friend and neighbor Hardy Cates. Hardy was always there to lend a helping hand whenever she needed it and was everything she'd ever dreamed of in a man, but he was restless and ambitious. Although Hardy loved Liberty as much as she loved him, he wouldn't allow himself to become too involved with her for fear that if he did, he wouldn't be able to leave town to seek his fortune. Not long after Hardy finally left, Liberty's mother was killed in a tragic accident, leaving her to raise her sister alone.
For years, Liberty struggled and scraped to get by, working part-time while also attending beauty school. After graduating, Liberty moved to Houston to work in an upscale salon that catered to the rich and famous. One day, an older, wealthy oilman came into the salon and befriended Liberty. It wasn't long before everyone was thinking that he was her sugar daddy, but the pair never shared anything more than casual lunches or friendly talks until the day he offered her a job as his personal assistant. It was an opportunity she couldn't pass up, but she didn't expect to fall for the man's son, Gage Travis. After years of pining for Hardy and thinking she would never experience the kind of love she so desperately craved, Gage sweeps her off her feet, but when Hardy finally returns, Liberty will have to make the hardest decision of her life.
When Sugar Daddy was released, it marked Lisa Kleypas' first foray into contemporary romance. I had heard from some fans who thought it leaned more toward women's fiction, and in some ways, I can see why. It is written in the heroine's first-person POV, and the romance, for the most part, is limited to the first third and the last third of the book. In between, is the heroine's struggles to make ends meet and raise her little sister after the death of their mother. Ultimately though, I felt there was enough romance to keep it categorized in that genre. However, the romance is rooted in a serious love triangle which at times, left me feeling like my emotions were being yanked back and forth between two wonderful men. I'm not usually a fan of love triangles which left me with doubts that Lisa Kleypas could make me accept the man that Liberty chose in a relatively short amount of pages, but in the end, she pulled it off beautifully.
The story begins when Liberty is a young teenager. I liked that she wasn't exactly the prettiest girl, she wore glasses, was on the shy side, and had her share of fears. As she grows older, she gradually becomes stronger and more self-sufficient. She was a smart girl and very organized. When her mother went into labor, she had everything right down to a birth plan and all the right equipment ready to go on a moments notice and accompanied her mother to the birth center. It might have been unhealthy on some level, but Liberty loving her baby sister like she's her own child was really sweet and ultimately, it was that bond between them that kept them together through thick and thin when their mother died. As a young woman, Liberty was very strong and admirable for taking on the full responsibility of raising her sister, while also working and going to beauty school. She was essentially thrown into the role of a single mother straight out of high school. When Churchill hired her to be his personal assistant and live in his home, Liberty's awestruck wonder of being surrounded by the ostentatious luxury of his home and lifestyle was very realistic and well-done. She may have butted heads with Gage at first, but it was really sweet how she cared for him when he was sick. I think that was the turning point in their relationship, and he was able to give her what she'd been longing for all those years she spent struggling and lonely. When Hardy returned just as Liberty was starting to fall in love with Gage, I completely understood why she would succumb to his kisses and want to spend time with him again. There was never any real closure to their relationship, so she wasn't able to entirely stop loving him. In the end, I believe that Liberty chose the right man, but it wasn't an easy road to get there.
I loved how protective Hardy was of Liberty right from the moment he met her when they were just teenagers. I could easily sense the deep conflict within Hardy, between his heart, which was pulling him toward Liberty, and his strong ambition and determination, which was pulling him toward leaving Welcome behind and never looking back. He had a restless soul and needed to prove himself. While he stayed in Welcome, he was always there to lend a hand when Liberty needed it. He had this ruthlessly contained passion for her that he only allowed to surface a few times, because he was afraid if he got too close to her, he wouldn't be able to leave. Hardy was very easy to fall in love with. I liked him almost instantly and my appreciation of him only grew with time. I can see why Liberty pined for him for years. Ms. Kleypas did an excellent job of expressing the deep longing between this pair. If Hardy hadn't left town, I think he and Liberty could have shared the perfect love. A part of me wanted to be upset with him for leaving, especially when Liberty had to struggle so hard to make ends meet. I can't help thinking that if he'd loved Liberty enough, he would have found a way to make it work, but another part of me understood that he was young and restless and just needed to get away. Hardy's life turned out well except for not having Liberty in it, and when he returns, it seems that he still loves her, but in many ways, he is a different man.
Unlike Hardy, who was so warm and inviting, Gage initially had an air of hardness and coldness about him. It took a little longer for me to warm up to him, but once he realizes that Liberty isn't his father's mistress and really starts interacting with her and Carrington, I couldn't help but fall for him too. Gage was obviously a great son to come over every morning to help his dad shower and dress when he injured his leg. The way he helped Carrington with her school project and tried to be more helpful to Liberty was sweet. I loved how he was ready to whisk her off to London or Paris in an instant. Gage and Liberty had excellent chemistry, but admittedly, it was a little difficult to become fully invested in their relationship when I knew she was still pining for Hardy on some level. He was also involved with another woman when they first met and didn't break it off until after he first kissed Liberty. This all kind of made the rebound red lights go off in my head. However, Gage won me over pretty quickly with his warmth, tenderness, and passion. The way that Gage gently took control and gave Liberty the elusive pleasure she'd been craving for so long made their first love scene absolutely delicious.
Liking both of these men almost equally made for some rather difficult reading. I already mentioned that I've never been a fan of love triangles in romance, and that's especially true with books in which I know a wonderful person with a good heart is going to eventually be left out in the cold. Hardy and Gage are both great guys which made it almost impossible to choose between them. If it weren't for me catching a spoiler, I wouldn't have even known which man to root for. Even knowing who was going to win out in the end didn't really make it much easier, but I felt that Ms. Kleypas drew enough of a distinction between them by the end that I was happy with Liberty's choice.
Overall, Sugar Daddy was a beautifully written book that I really enjoyed. I realized while reading it just how good Ms. Kleypas is at the art of metaphor and imagery. Her words really helped to bring the story to life in my mind's eye. In addition to her three wonderful main characters, she also created some great secondary characters. Churchill initially seemed like a temperamental old codger, but he eventually became the kind of man anyone would be proud to have as a father. Liberty's little sister, Carrington, is cute and precocious. We're also introduced to Gage's brother, Jack, who becomes the hero of book #3 in the Travis series, Smooth Talking Stranger. For anyone who hasn't read Sugar Daddy yet, I won't ruin it by giving away who, but the guy who comes out the loser in this story becomes the hero of the next one, Blue-Eyed Devil. Sugar Daddy was, without a doubt, another wonderful read from Lisa Kleypas, and I can't wait to continue with the series.
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