“Too Hard to Forget” is fun, sexy, and romantic but also a thought-provoking addition to the Romancing the Clarksons series. Tessa Bailey constructed two rich characters in Peggy Clarkson and Elliott Brooks, who appear one-dimensional at first glance. However if one is to look below the surface they are riddled with insecurity, guilt, and self-loathing. The way in which the Hero and Heroine deal with their “baggage”, individually is what creates their “persona”. “Too Hard to Forget” straddles a few time-lines, Peggy’s mother’s journal, Peggy’s senior year in college and the present. Elliott’s an older man dealing with self-blame and guilt over an life-altering event. Peggy’s a balm and a torment; she’s too good to abandon but too wrong to be right. He harshly sends Peggy home after graduation. Elliott’s still the winning college football coach now more stoic, gruffer, and unapproachable. Peggy thinks she needs closure, she needs forgiveness.
Tessa Bailey puts so much controversy and weight behind Elliott’s guilt and self-flagellation and the repercussions it produces. Throughout the previous Romancing the Clarksons books you see bits and pieces of Peggy’s depths and strengths. In “To Hard to Forget” she’s shocked by the actual driving force behind her failed relationships. It isn’t as easy as “Elliott broke her heart and she needs to get over him”. There’s so much more to that story that both of them are shaken as it comes to light. Elliott sees his part in it and opens his eyes to what his life’s become since pushing Peggy away. The pace builds slowly as it unfurls a complex storyline. Elliott’s a dirty-talking sexy beast! Humor’s sprinkled throughout, as are unexpected characters to whom you ‘ll grow attached. Belmont and Sage are still by Peggy’s side and Aaron has a couple of cameo phone-calls.
Peggy and Elliott meet during her senior year at university. Elliott’s the successful Head football coach and she’s a cheerleader. He’s tormented by stress, blame, and guilt. He feels his hyper-attention to football is to blame for his wife’s death. If he hadn’t been so absorbed in game films he would have answered the phone call about her accident sooner. Now he’s a widower and a single father. He feels guilty for noticing the beautiful and sunny cheerleader who seems to always know what he’s thinking and feeling. She’s the only person not afraid to stand up to him. Peggy Clarkson is Temptation. She’s a sin and Elliott’s going to buy Styx-side property in Hell. The warmth of Heaven envelops him when he’s inside Peggy while the flames of Damnation burn. He prays for forgiveness of his sins.
Elliott constantly tries to break it off with Peggy but ends up falling into her arms. This confuses things even more. He admires her strength, courage, optimism, and heart. Peggy makes him see the good in himself even when he’s convinced it doesn’t exist. After graduation Peggy was going home to California to visit friends and Elliott tells her to not come back. Their “thing” was temporary, it wasn’t supposed to become a relationship. He calls her a cab and after much screaming and crying Peggy and the cab drive away.
Now on the Clarkson sibling’s cross-country road-trip there are only three people remaining. Peggy, her half-brother Belmont, and her best friend Sage. They’re stopping in Ohio in time for Peggy’s Alumni Weekend. Peggy’s plan is to seduce Elliott then leave him “high and dry”; this time she’ll be the one walking away. She’ll have the upper hand, her heart won’t be broken, and she’ll be able to find happiness with another man. However, her plan isn’t as easy as she thought and in the first couple of skirmishes Elliott wins. Elliott’s daughter’s in need of help and Peggy goes to the rescue under the guise of being a university professor. Elliott gives her the brush so Peggy falls back on her old coping mechanism, Flirting. Elliott catches her, outside of church of all places, they end up in a sexual frenzy outside the church walls. Again, the guilt.
One of the team’s players has to pull out of the big game. At first Elliott doesn’t want to hear the reason but the player tells him anyway. Kyler’s family’s farm is going to be repossessed and he needs to go and help them anyway he can. Leaving coach’s office Kyler runs into Peggy, who’s there on Alumni business, and tells her he remembers her. Coach, in a show of possessiveness, tells Kyler to move along and stop flirting with Peggy. Kyler apologizes for flirting with Coach’s girlfriend. Both Elliott and Peggy deny a romance. Peggy overheard Kyler Tate’s problems and thinks she has a solution. The reason she’s there is because of a fundraiser for the cheerleading department. Now she’s going to ask if they can donate the proceeds to the Tate family.
She asks Elliott if they can contact his former players who are now NFL players for donated memorabilia. Peggy’s then asks him to make a speech at the Alumni Dinner to sell more tickets. Elliott and Peggy start heating things up in his office but things end quickly when Peggy says something completely unexpected. The statement troubles Elliott for being the cause of those feelings. Peggy never consciously had those troubling thoughts and is now analyzing them. Elliott receives a call from his daughter, Alice’s, school, and needs to go immediately. He runs into Peggy and Bel in the parking lot where there’s few a tense moments between Elliott and Bel. And in true Bel fashion he cryptically asks and gives Elliott the answers regarding Peggy. Then they go to save Alice. Peggy saves the day and Alice invites her over for dinner.
When Elliott arrives home he’s struck by the domesticity of it and thinks about what if. What if he hadn’t pushed Peggy out of his life and Alice had grown up making dinner side-by-side with Peggy. Would he stay late and watch game films or be sure to make it home for supper? Could he be involved in her and his daughter’s life, unlike how he was for Alice’s mother? What if? However, Alice starts putting the piece’s of Peggy and Elliott’s relationship, her being a student, Elliot the coach. Most importantly, the timeline in regard to her mother’s death. Dinner doesn’t end well, names are called, doors are slammed, tears are shed. Peggy starts walking but Elliott takes her back to her hotel. They walk a little and talk and as they do Elliott begins to realize some very important things.
There was a dark compartment in his brain that hid all his shortcomings and monsters. That a part of his mind was hiding those monsters from him. His newly awoken emotions found their way into that dark place. He was dead inside. Living in Black and White, home, eat, sleep, football, Alice, repeat. Unfortunately they were being unleashed on everyone else. When Peggy left she had to live with the aftermath of their relationship. Peggy suffered walking through the aftermath of their bloody romantic siege.
The professional players are coming through with auction items to raise money for Kyler Tate’s family. However, it may be too late the bank is repossessing the house in hours. With some help from Aaron Clarkson and intimidation from Elliott the Tate’s get another day. Elliott gets some dating help from Kyler and threats of vomiting inducing stadium runs if he says a word. Unfortunately the night ends early due to a football emergency. Again Elliott wonders if he can give Peggy all she deserves or will he be an absentee husband again. With Peggy leaving the next day Elliott needs to make decisions and take action.
Tessa Bailey creates a “Love PTSD” for Peggy in “Too Hard to Forget”. Initially I was skeptical about a few of Elliott’s “quirks” but in the telling of the tale it made sense. Elliott focuses on his feelings not realizing how bleeds onto someone he loves. He believes Peggy’s a temptation, a heaven he doesn’t deserve. Elliott thinks he’s saving Peggy by sending her away; in reality he doesn’t see she’s his salvation. As Belmont says to Elliott “You’re still not really seeing her, so you’ll get no sympathy from me. It’s going to happen too late and you’ll be nowhere. A goner.” Peggy underestimates her emotional depths and misjudges how much she can offer others. She realizes that she may not end up with Elliott but she sees that she has true fundraising skills. Peggy has hope. I can’t wait for the next installment of Romancing the Clarksons!
I’m giving “Too Hard to Forget” 5 Lightning Bolts and a Storm Warning.
This novel was provided, voluntarily read, and honestly reviewed