Saturday, December 20, 2014

Joan Johnston -- The Price

Joan Johnston -- The Price

Rated: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ . ♥   {4.45}
Action: ♠♠♠ / Emotion: ♣♣♣.♣ / Romance: ♥♥♥.♥ / Sensuous: ♦.♦ / Suspense: ♠♠♠♠
Action: 3.0 / Emotion: 3.5 / Romance: 3.75 / Sensuous: 1.5 / Suspense: 4.0  //  Laughter: 0 / Teary: 3

Setting:       Houston, Texas / The Woodlands, Texas / Bitter Creek, Texas
Era:             Present Day (2003)
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It is always a pleasure to pick up a Joan Johnston book.   Johnston has a knack for telling a story in a manner that enables the reader to feel like they are part of the story.   Re-reading The Price, the fourth book in The Bitter Creek Series, provided many hours of enjoyment and entertainment.   Even though this book was a wonderful addition to this series, it is not the best book of the series.

Johnston went in a different direction with this book as compared to the previous three books in the series.   Those books were labeled as Contemporary Romance books and the romance factor in those stories was, indeed, the focal point.   The Price, however, is listed as a Romantic Suspense book and the romance aspect took a back seat to the suspenseful factors in the story.   One other unusual aspect to the book was the fact that the hero was given a much larger role in the book than the heroine.

The Price takes place twelve years after The Loner.   The book opens by giving readers a brief recap of what happened in the first three books of the series and letting them get to see what was happening in the lives of the Blackthorne and Creed families.   Luke is having breakfast with his elder brother, Sam, and his family in the foreman's house on Three Oaks.   Luke acknowledges that Sam is a great father to his biological son, Daniel "Bronc" Lucas Creed, even though it was agreed among Luke, Sam and Emma (Sam's wife and Bronc's mother) that Bronc would never learn that Sam was not his biological father.

Luke, however, paints himself in a bad light because he is the only member of the Creed family still holding a grudge against his mother's husband, Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne.   Luke's bitterness is so intense that he is angry at the rest of his family, including Billy and Summer Coburn, who pay a cameo visit to the Homestead, while Luke is dining with Blackjack and his mother, Lauren "Ren" Creed Blackthorne.   Luke hates seeing how loving and caring Blackjack is with his grandchildren: {1} twelve year old Bronc, {2} thirteen year old Will Coburn, {3} eleven year old Katherine "Kate" Coburn, and {3} eight year old Jack Coburn.

As happenstance would have it, Luke's high school sweetheart (the girl that broke his heart), Amelia "Amy" Hazeltine Nash, had returned to Bitter Creek for a short visit with her mother, an agoraphobic.   Luke ran into Amy in the pasture as she was enjoying an extended ride on the horse Ren loaned to her.   Amy and her ten year old daughter, Honor Nash, joined the family for lunch, whereupon Amy takes Luke to task for his angry and disrespectful behavior towards Blackjack.
"They're all trying to get along, to make a happy life for themselves, to let the past die a clean death.   (Amy, page 35)

He saw the scorn in her eyes.   And felt the injustice of her accusation, the injustice of the situation.   (Luke, page 35)

"To get on with your life.   To make the best of a bad situation.   We all have to do it.   Life isn't a bed of roses.   It's full of bloody thorns.   The wounds will heal if you will let them."   (Amy, page 36)

"I don't belong here anymore.   I'm not a part of his family.   I refuse to be a part of them."   (Luke, page 36)
Amy, however, doesn't come across much better than Luke in her introduction to readers.   First, Amy is nearly running her horse into the ground because she has so much to deal with.   Second, Amy is secretive and refuses to entertain the idea of letting Luke past the barriers she has around her heart.   And even though it is probably tacky, it was impossible not to smile and agree with Luke when he make his smart aleck remark to Amy when he learned she was divorced.
"So the perfect husband wasn't so perfect after all," Luke couldn't resist saying.   (Luke, page 31)
Johnston spent so much time developing several other interesting and intriguing secondary characters in the story, that she failed to develop Amy's personality.   Thus, it was impossible to identify with Amy on a personal level.   Amy's history was left almost totally in the shadows.   One had to wonder how Amy, who was in a particularly difficult marriage, managed to attend college and law school during those miserable years.   There were so many questions that arose because Amy's background was barely revealed.   Things like, if Amy was so determined to marry a reliable and responsible man that she broke up with the wild and rule-breaking Luke, why would she marry a man who would take her away from her mother and father, who depended on her?

Because of a personal pet peeve, one particular characteristic of Amy's personality made it difficult to warm up to her.   Luke constantly described Amy as a person who saw everything in black and white -- Amy did not allow for shades of gray.   Although Amy was more likeable by the end of the book, getting there was a difficult journey.   Amy threw out mixed signals to the readers.   When Luke was honest and open about still caring for Amy and wanted to renew their relationship, Amy shut Luke down cold with no explanation.   And then bemoaned her single status.
Amy knew, deep in her heart, that she had turned out every bit as afraid to reach out and grab for life as her agoraphobic mother.   (Amy, page 21)

Amy didn't want to spend the rest of her life without love.   Life was full of risks.   Sometimes you got hurt.   But the alternative was to spend the rest of your life alone.   (Amy, page 197)
The missing years in Luke's life (the twelve years between The Loner and The Price) also roused questions in the reader's mind.   Like Luke must have made a drastic change in his life to all the sudden go from being a rebellious troublemaker, who didn't follow anyone's rules to being a boy/man so driven to prove himself that he worked his way through college and law school (because he refused to touch a dime of the trust fund set aside for him by Blackjack) and after six years at a prestigious law firm in Houston, Texas, he was about to make partner.   But here's the curious thing -- if Luke so hated the Blackthornes that he was barely civil to his mother's husband when he visited, why did he accept a job at the law firm of DeWitt & Blackthorne, which was founded by Blackjack's ancestors?

One also can't help but wonder how Luke would have found time to date and marry Valerie and father two children if he was working his way through college and law school.   Naturally, Johnston left a little tidbit of information in the story that told readers why he choose Valerie to be his wife, but the marriage didn't last because Luke was so driven to make partner that he was never home.
Luke wasn't about to explain why it was so important to him to make something of himself -- and to do it on his own.   No one had believed Luke would ever amount to anything.   He'd rather have his fingernails yanked out with pliers than admit he'd spent ten years proving -- to a man he hated and a woman he loved -- that they should have had more faith in him.   (Luke, page 63)
After accepting that Johnston was not going to reveal how Luke and Amy came to be playing on the same chess board, the story moves to Houston, where Luke and Amy live and work.   While Luke works for massive D&B, Amy works for a smaller law firm, Hardy, Christian and James.   And, wouldn't you just know it, they are on opposing sides in a lawsuit regarding the death of little Rosa Anastasio, who died after going into a diabetic coma.   Mrs. Anastasio believed her daughter died as a result of the drug D-Free that Rosa was taking.

Working on the same case made it wonderfully convenient for Luke to pursue his continued personal interest in Amy.   Nevertheless, this romantic pursuit takes a back seat to the crux of the story -- whether D-Free, Hyland Pharmaceuticals's new miracle drug, was too dangerous to actually be on the market.   Because Hyland Pharmaceuticals was one of D&B's biggest clients, Luke was assigned the case so he could prove himself worthy of making partner.

Then Johnston begins placing other important chess pieces upon this board game.   First, there is the powerful queen, Grayson "Gray" Choate, the senior partner of the corporate department at D&B and Luke's new boss.   Now this is where Johnston shines in her character development.   Luke is concerned about working for the "Dragon Lady" because the last ten male associates assigned to work for Grayson not only didn't make it on the partner track, but they no longer worked for D&B.

Having been a legal secretary it was easy to understand all the details that Johnston included in this book about the hierarchy at a large law firm, about billing procedures, the inside politics, and an associate's work day.   However, it may have been boring and tedious for a non-legal reader to understand all the technical details that were included in the story.

It was surprising to find that Johnston gave the Dragon Lady a voice in the book.   And even though readers were presented with Grayson's thoughts and feelings, and revealed the trauma she suffered in her youth, she was still no more likeable.   In fact, as the story progressed, Grayson revealed herself to be even more despicable than originally introduced.   Johnston is extremely talented at developing the personalities of her secondary characters to such a degree that they often steal the show from the main characters.   And even though she was a deceitful, cold-hearted, manipulative excuse for a human being, when Grayson took center stage, she had the reader's full attention.

Another secondary character that was moved around the chessboard was Luke's best friend and fellow litigator, Drew DeWitt.   Again, Johnston's talent at including secondary characters that steal the spotlight when they walk through the pages of a story was evident as Drew shared page time with Luke and Amy.   A true-blue romance reader could not help but be fascinated by Drew as Johnston described him.   Thus, Johnston has insured that readers will want to pick up the next book in the series, The Rivals, to read Drew's story.
Drew never seemed to need help.   He'd never been married, but not because he couldn't attract women.   In fact, Drew had a new woman on his arm every week.   He was tall and lean, with shoulders that looked like he chopped wood for a living.   Luke figured it was the self-depreciating smile that charmed them, along with Drew's wry wit and astonishingly blue eyes.
He was jealous of Drew's carefree attitude toward life.   His friend did all the right things to make partner, but it didn't seem to matter as much to him as it did to Luke whether or not the firm invited him into its inner sanctum.   Drew was independently wealthy, the result of a trust fund.   (Luke, page 61-62)
But the real shocker in the story was that Drew was having a secret love affair with Grayson, a woman eighteen years his senior.   The fact that Drew is broken hearted when Grayson dumps him inspires even more interest in reading the next book in this series to see what kind of heroine Johnston is going to create for Drew.

Another secondary character that was well-developed for the duration of Luke and Amy's story was another D&B litigator and friend of Luke's, Nicole "Nick" or "Nicki" Maldonado.   Nicki had transferred to the litigation section three years ago after working five years in antitrust litigation for Bailey, Wise, Stockton, Hargraves & Kale in Washington, D.C.   Nicki was the female mirror image of Luke -- her entire life was about doing whatever it took to make partner.   In spite of that, Johnston successfully made readers feel compassion for Nicki as she came to realize she'd been making all the wrong moves on this chessboard.

Nicki had to turn to Luke and ask him to cover for her when she went to the hospital because she'd been diagnosed with Stage II Breast Cancer.   After a successful surgery, Nicki decided it was time to make some changes in her life.   She was ending her two-year-old affair with D&B's head of litigation, Justin Sterling, a married man with children, and was going to find a man who would marry her and give her children.   Nicki was given a point of view voice in this story and given an important role because Luke needed 'under the radar' help with researching the Hyland Pharmaceuticals case.

Again Johnston showcased her talent at character development by including two minor, but extremely interesting secondary characters into the story.   Edward "Trip" Arthur Mull, III was the brand new D&B associate assigned to work with Luke on the Hyland Pharmaceuticals case.   Again, surprisingly, Johnston gave this character a point of view voice, which really added an intriguing flavor to the story.   Luke even make "Trip" more personable to readers:
"I'm going to call you Eddie."   He held up a hand to stave off Eddie's protest.   "To keep from confusing you with the other two Trips I know at the firm."   (Luke, page 65)

Edward Arthur Mull III had been called Trip all his life -- until Luke Creed had labeled him Eddie.   He liked being Eddie.   Nobody had too many expectations of a guy named Eddie.   The nickname Trip presumed you were third in line of egotistical -- and perhaps powerful -- males who thought enough of themselves and their progenitors to immortalize themselves by giving their first-born son the same name.   (Eddie, page 175)
Eddie proved himself to be an excellent aid in Luke's quest to find out if D-Free was too dangerous to be on the market.   Eddie also had a wife that stayed mostly in the background, but the way that Johnston included Mary Margaret Mull into the story made her a wonderful addition to the tale.   The inclusion of Eddie and Mary Margaret underlined the strain that being an overworked associate at D&B placed on a marriage.

And boy was there a strain between Luke and his ex-wife, Valerie Creed Hutchins.   Valerie had remarried an accountant named Martin Hutchins and they lived in the house that Luke had purchased in The Woodlands (a suburb of Houston).   Luke and Valerie were constantly at loggerheads because Valerie continued to rail at Luke for putting his job before his daughters.   But as the story unfolded, it was obvious that Valerie was one of those women who made things even more difficult for the ex-husband when it came to visitation rights for his children.

It was easy to see why Luke had divorced Valerie as she played games with his time with ten year old Brynne and six year old Mary Jane "Midge" Creed.   Valerie came across as cold-hearted as she told Luke, who was fighting for any time he could have with Brynne and Midge, that she and Martin were moving to Vermont so Martin could help his father in his own business.   Which made their abrupt about face at the end of the book just not realistic.   Johnston leaves readers with the impression that Valerie married a pretty heartless man -- a man who one day was moving to Vermont to help his father, who'd just suffered a heart attack, and the next day changed his mind because he was offered more money.   It sure helped Luke's happily-ever-after ending, but it didn't ring true.

Johnston included what appeared to be some realistic scenes with a single father and his children as she described Luke's mindset during the weekend that he spent time with Brynne and Midge.   This weekend was also used to increase Luke's need to find out the truth about D-Free.   Brynne had Type I diabetes and unbeknownst to Luke, Valerie had allowed the doctor to put Brynne on D-Free.   Naturally, Valerie was unwilling to stop Brynne from taking D-Free because Luke didn't have proof that it was a deadly drug.

Putting Brynne on D-Free also increased the suspense aspect of the story.   Johnston had readers on pins and needles just wondering if Luke's daughter was going to go into a diabetic coma and die.   So not only was Luke trying to outwit the Dragon Lady at work, but he was trying to keep his daughter safe.

The story moved at a quick, fast, fascinating pace as Luke spent his days juggling work demands, family demands and pursing Amy.   Since Johnston didn't concentrate on the romantic aspect of the story, Amy succumbed pretty easily to Luke's avowals of having never stopped loving her.   The lovemaking scenes did not have that heated punch that Johnston usually provides in her books, but that could be because it was more difficult to develop the necessary emotional connection to the hero and heroine in this book.

Loved the ending.   The way that Johnston used Luke to tied up all the loose ends in the story and bring the villains to justice was so satisfying.   It is endings like this that feed the soul of romance readers.   After seeing so many injustices on the news every night, it is wonderful to imagine that, sometimes, the good guy wins and the bad guy gets his just desserts.

Needless to say, The Price, Joan Johnston's fourth book in The Bitter Creek Series, is another enjoyable, entertaining, intriguing well-told story.   The aspects of the story that make it a worthwhile read include: {1} Luke Creed: although he was a handsome, driven, determined hero, the way he clung to his old hatreds made him an unlikeable hero at times; {2} Amelia "Amy" Hazeltine Nash: a compassionate heroine, but her under-development and her inability to see shades of gray made it difficult to totally identify with her; {3} although the action was of the everyday workings of the lawyers in a large law firm, the story moved at a quick, steady pace; {4} the emotional connection to the characters was present, but minimal; {5} the romance between Luke and Amy played second fiddle; {6} the best part of the story were the suspenseful aspects, like: {a} would Luke be able to keep his job and find out the truth about D-Free; {b} would Luke be able to convince Amy to take a chance on him; {c} would Brynne die of a diabetic coma induced by D-Free; {d} what was going to happen between Drew and Grayson; {7} well-written, slightly heated love scenes added to the story's sensuality factor; {8} the inclusion of spotlight stealing, well-developed secondary characters really made the story pop: {a} Grayson "Gray" Choate; {b} Drew DeWitt; {c} Nicole "Nick" or "Nicki" Maldonado; {d} Edward "Trip" or "Eddie" Arthur Mull, III; {e} Mary Margaret Mull; {f} Valerie Creed Hutchins; {g} Brynne Creed; {h} Mary Jane "Midge" Creed; and {i} Honor Nash; and, finally, {9} the brief appearances of several important secondary characters that were introduced in the previous three books of the series: {a} Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne; {b} Lauren "Ren" Creed Blackthorne; and {c} Sam Creed.   The Price is another wonderful addition to a very enjoyable series.
--Vonda M. Reid (Thursday, December 18, 2014 : 5:30 p.m.)     [352]

Books In The Series: "The Bitter Creek Series"
# Date Title Hero Heroine
01.02-2000The CowboyTrace Blackthorne: eldest sonCallie Creed: eldest daughter
  secondary story:Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne: family patriarchLauren "Ren" Creed: family matriarch
02.03-2001The TexanOwen Blackthorne: Texas RangerBayleigh "Bay" Creed: veterinarian
  secondary story:Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne: family patriarchLauren "Ren" Creed: family matriarch
  secondary story:'Bad' Billy Coburn: dirt poor, town bad boySummer Blackthorne: spoiled little rich girl
03.03-2002The LonerBilly Coburn: dirt poor, town bad boySummer Blackthorne: spoiled little rich girl
  secondary story:Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne: family patriarchLauren "Ren" Creed: family matriarch
  secondary story:Sam Creed: eldest sonEmma Coburn: Billy's sister
04.03-2003The PriceLuke Creed: Houston D&B attorneyAmelia "Amy" Hazeltine Nash: his high school sweetheart
  secondary story:Drew Dewitt: Houston D&B attorneyGrayson Choate: Houston D&B attorney
05.09-2004The RivalsDrew DeWitt: wealthy playboySarah Barndollar: Teton County Deputy Sheriff
  secondary story:Clayton "Clay" Blackthorne: U.S. Attorney GeneralElsbeth "Libby" Grayhawk: back-country guide
06.09-2005The Next Mrs. BlackthorneNorth Grayhawk: Texas and Wyoming rancherJocelyn Montrose: socialite
  secondary story:Jack McKinley: former NFL quarterback, playboyKatherine "Kate" Grayhawk: UT freshman
  secondary story:Clayton "Clay" Blackthorne: new Federal JudgeElsbeth "Libby" Grayhawk: wilderness guide
07.07-2007A Stranger's GameBreed Grayhawk: FBI AgentGrace Caldwell: framed for murder
  secondary story:Jack McKinley: Texas RangerKatherine "Kate" Grayhawk Pendleton: mother of twins
08.01-2010ShatteredWyatt Shaw: billionaireKatherine "Kate" Grayhawk Pendleton: physical therapist
  secondary story:Jack McKinley: Texas RangerHolly Gayle Tanner McKinley: pediatric oncologist
09.04-2012Texas Bride [1]Jacob "Jake" CreedMiranda Wentworth
10.01-2013Wyoming Bride [1]Flint CreedHannah Wentworth McMurty
10e03-2014A Bitter Creek Christmas. . .. . .
11.01-2014Montana Bride [1]Karl NorwoodHetty Wentworth
12.05-2014SinfulConnor Flynn: widower, Delta ForceEve Grayhawk:
[1]   These books are listed as a Historical Romance Sub-Series entitled "The Mail Order Brides".

Characters Found In "The Price"
Character Description
Luke Creed[Hero] moved to Houston (2) at 20, threw Blackjack's offer to work at Three Oaks in his face (3) 2 daughters; divorced (5) drove gas-guzzling Chevy truck; lived in downtown condo; kept his Harley at Three Oaks; worked as lawyer for DeWitt & Blackthorne; earned reputation as one of best litigators in the firm in the past 6 years; would make partner next year (7) in high school, a rebellious troublemaker, who didn't follow anyone's rules (9) afraid of nothing; brash beyond words; hid his fear of the love budding between him and Amy in high school behind laughing brown eyes and a cocky smile (10) wild; irresponsible (15) his brown hair was too long, as usual, down over his ears and his collar; his body was still lean, but his shoulders were broader than that been when he was a younger man; his forearms looked sinewy and strong; his hands were large, and seemed to fit his body better now; his eyes, the color of sun-ripened tobacco and still looked world-weary (17) more adept at hiding his feelings; incorrigibly honest (18) 32-y-o (20) over 6' tall (26) divorced 2 years (40) ate Tums like candy (41) graduated UT law school at 26 (42) a survivor (46) smart ass (48) unruly brown hair (69) moved into Commerce Towers after his divorce (70) 1985 Harley XLS Roadster (139) a few gray hairs at his temples; crow's feet around his eyes; laugh lines scored his cheeks and framed his mouth; one of the best litigators in Texas; took his responsibilities seriously (160) Drew's best friend (200) callouses on hands (220)
Amelia "Amy" Hazeltine Nash[Heroine] had been living in Virginia; dated Luke through high school; dumped him her senior year; 2 years later married much older man; moved to Virginia; returned to Texas 11 years later; responsible for her parents (9) meek; responsible (10) talented; smart; pretty; good at everything (11) analytical mind (14) 11-year marriage had been a prison; blond hair too short for a ponytail these days (16) had been Luke's friend for 4 years (17) 32-y-o (20) lawyer with a small firm in Houston (29) nervous habit of chewing on lower lip (54) saw everything in terms of black and white, right and wrong; she lived by the rules (54) wearing business clothes purchased at Target or Walmart (57) still smart; still accomplish; still extraordinarily pretty (58) blond; blue eyes; pretty; looked like a wraith; dark circles under her eyes; enticing bow of her upper lip; her body was lithe rather than curvy; her eyes, large and wide-spaced, looked empathetic but wary (85) kindness and consideration of others; always befriended the girl who was a little too odd to be a part of the crowd; always nice to the homely boy who couldn't get a date (89) drove an older Honda (90) experience with Carl made her better, stronger, more self-reliant (261)
. . . . . .
Mrs. Anastasio[Rare Appearances] suing Hyland Pharmaceuticals; Choate wanted Luke to settle the case today (42) owner and CEO of Wholesome Foods (56) dark, pain-filled gaze (56)
Rosa Anastasio[No Appearance] Mrs. Anastasio's daughter; died from diabetic coma, taking D-Free (51)
Bayleigh "Bay" [Creed] [Blackthorne][No Appearance] [Heroine of Book 2 / The Texan] Luke's older sister; inherited trust fund from Blackjack (3)
Callie [Creed] [Blackthorne][No Appearance] [Heroine of Book 1 / The Cowboy] Luke's older sister; inherited trust fund from Blackjack (3)
Clay Blackthorne[No Appearance] [Book 6 / The Next Mrs. Blackthorne] single; twin brother to Owen (227)
Eli [Creed] [Monroe] [Blackthorne][No Appearance] Callie's son; had lived at Three Oaks (25)
Eve Blackthorne[No Appearance] Blackjack's first wife; had affair with Blackjack's foreman (34) Drew's aunt (350)
Hannah [Creed] [Monroe] [Blackthorne][No Appearance] Nolan and Callie's daughter; had lived at Three Oaks (25)
Harry Blackthorne[No Appearance] didn't come into the office anymore, but was still a member of D&B; 92-y-o and still as sharp as a Mexican spur; Blackjack's great-great-grandfather (74)
Jackson "Blackjack" Blackthorne[Secondary Character] [Featured in: The Cowboy, The Texan, The Loner] married Luke and Sam's mother 12-y-a (1) Jesse's nemesis; taller than Luke; his shoulders were broad and for a man in his late 60s, his hips were still surprisingly lean; he'd had a heart attack 12 years ago there but there was no vestige of it in his appearance; there wasn't an ounce of extra fat on his muscular frame; his gaze was sharp, his eyes flinty gray, his face craggy from years spent in the sun; his thick black hair had turned completely silver, yet he looked 10 years younger than Luke knew he was (26) muscular forearms (32)
Lauren "Ren" Creed Blackthorne[POV] [Secondary Character] [Featured in: The Cowboy, The Texan, The Loner] Luke's mother; married Jackson Blackthorne 12-y-a (3) still slim and willowy, still wearing Wrangler jeans and a plaid Western shirt, at 65; her brown hair was salted with gray, and she wore it cut short and spiky, mussed in a way that fashionable women in the big city had to work to achieve; because she had worked in the house all the years she had been married to Jesse, her skin had stayed young and unwrinkled; spent past 16 years outdoors training cutting horses, giving her character lines around the eyes and mouth; sun had tanned her skin, leaving it warm and glowing (25) she looked healthy and happy (26)
Owen Blackthorne[No Appearance] [Hero of Book 2 / The Texan] married to Luke's sister; twin brother to Clay (227)
Riley Burgess[One Appearance] member of D&B's management committee; pipe-smoking Yale man who managed the tax department (384)
Carol[No Appearance] one of the few women Drew had dated more than twice (183)
Grayson "Gray" Choate[POV] [Major Secondary Character] worked for D&B (31) Luke's new female boss; reputation as a shark in the legal community (32) senior partner of corporate department (44) Luke's first woman boss; unpredictable; tough; surprisingly feminine; sexy; 53-y-o but could pass for 45; slender; petite; golden highlights in her hair looked like the sun put them there; spent 12-14 hours in office every day (44) dressed to attract men; never been married; was known to eat up associates and spit out their useless remains; did not allow casual dress; 19th-floor office took up an entire corner of the solid brick building that housed the firm (45) known as "Dragon Lady"; gained prestige and power in the firm over the years as the major client she represented, Hyland Pharmaceuticals, became a behemoth (46) wore a form-fitting, tailored white suit that emphasized her hourglass figure; the black blouse beneath it was fragile silk; choice of dress was intentionally alluring (47) different; strange; odd (62) hard to pigeonhole; smart; cagey; clever (63) truly stunning figure (64) firm, supple skin (68) Drew's lover; had 30-y-o secret that haunted her (103) beautiful; smart; respected; accomplished; wonderful, adventuresome lover (105) father had beaten mother to death, then shot himself when she was 16; decided never to marry (202) manipulative; deceitful; cold-hearted; mean-spirited; doesn't care about anyone but herself; greedy (337)
Billy Coburn[One Appearance] [Hero of Book 3 / The Loner] Emma's brother; Summer's husband; lived at the Castle (28) Blackjack's bastard son; had been 'Bad' Billy Coburn all his life, a dirt-poor saddle tramp who's befriended Summer Blackthorne (33)
Jack [Coburn][One Appearance] Billy and Summer's 8-y-o son (33)
Katherine "Kate" [Coburn][One Appearance] Billy and Summer's 11-y-o daughter (33)
Summer Blackthorne Coburn[One Appearance] [Heroine of Book 3 / The Loner] Billy's wife; lived at the Castle (28) Blackjack's only daughter (33) not Blackjack's biological daughter (34)
Will [Coburn][One Appearance] Billy's 13-y-o son (33)
Brynne Creed[Important Secondary Character] Luke's 10-y-o daughter (5) knew how it felt to go through life with a wounded body (39) had Type I diabetes (50) diagnosed when she was 5-y-o; took insulin shots 4-6 times a day (51) went to school with Honor Nash (86) curly blond hair fell almost to her waist; new attitude of modesty (127) birthday on October 31 (168)
Daniel "Bronc" Lucas Creed[Brief Appearance] Sam and Emma's 12-y-o son; Luke's biological son from one-night stand; did not know that Sam wasn't his biological father; had Luke's cowlick (4) all skinny arms and long legs (6)
Emma [Coburn] [Creed][Brief Appearance] [Featured in: The Loner] Sam's wife; fell in love with Sam while pregnant with Luke's child (4) deeply, happily in love with Sam (5)
Jesse Creed[No Appearance] Luke's father (25)
Mary Jane "Midge" Creed[Important Secondary Character] Luke's 6-y-o daughter (5)
Sam Creed[Brief Appearance] [Featured in: The Loner] Luke's older brother (1) would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair thanks to an accident on the high school football field that involved a Blackthorne; loved working outdoors (2) inherited trust fund from Blackjack (3) a great father (4) could not father children because of accident; deeply, happily in love with Emma (5) a paraplegic (6) lived in the foreman's house of Three Oaks (7) in his youth had hated the Blackthornes, had become an embittered alcoholic (34)
Drew DeWitt[Major Secondary Character] [Hero of Book 5 / The Rivals] Luke meet at D&B's fall picnic 6-y-a; 3 years older than Luke [35-y-o]; spent a few years bumming around Europe and Australia before he'd headed to law school; up for partner this year; great-great-grandson of other founding partner of D&B; competed with Luke for high-profile cases; picked up the slack when Luke when through his divorce; never seemed to need help; never been married; had a new woman on his arm every week; tall and lean; shoulders that looked like he chopped wood for a living; self-depreciating smile that charmed women; wry wit; astonishingly blue eyes; carefree attitude toward life; did all the right things to make partner, but it didn't seem to matter as much to him as it did to Luke (61) independently wealthy thanks to a trust fund (62) blond hair stood in spikes; avid eyes (100) blond curls on his chest (101) Grayson's love; 18 years younger (102) wealthy; handsome; could have any woman he wanted (104) attacked everything he did with enthusiasm (106) flat, muscled stomach (199) possessed a dark side; the bright, boyish smile, the all-American good looks on the outside -- and a tortured soul on the inside (349)
Dusty [DeWitt][No Appearance] Drew's brother; committed suicide at 23 (205)
Franklin DeWitt[Rare Appearances] F&D's managing partner; explained to Luke his next assignment was to work for Choate and Hyland Pharmaceuticals (44) wearing a Western shirt cinched at the throat by a bolo tie, Wrangler jeans belted with a big silver buckle and alligator cowboy boots; the genuine article, born and bred in Texas (73)
Flo[Brief Appearances] Luke's secretary; dressed like a flower bed run amuck; green plastic framed glasses perched on her nose (42) red-painted fingernails (43)
Neil Ford[No Appearance] the associate that Luke had replaced in the corporate section of D&B; died 3 weeks ago in car crash (53) mixed too much alcohol and anti-depressants; died behind the wheel in one-car accident (45)
Dr. Fredericks[No Appearance] Nicki Maldonado's doctor (207) female doctor (208)
Harriet[One Appearance] Drew's secretary; used to be Luke's secretary too (187)
[Mr. Hazeltine][No Appearance] Amy's father; patient with wife; becoming more dependent on Amy (9)
[Mrs. Hazeltine][No Appearance] Amy's mother; an agoraphobic; Amy forced to handle her duties (9) afraid of everything (10) surprisingly functional; did projects for the poor and puzzles to keep her mind active and had learned to shop on the Internet (197)
Penelope Herter[No Appearance] brand new associate that joined D&B in September; Justin Sterling's new mistress (356)
Martin Hutchins[Brief Appearances] Valerie's second husband; lived in modest home in The Woodlands that Luke had purchased; an accountant (70) drove black Porsche 911 (79) family from Vermont (283)
Valerie [Creed] Hutchins[Major Secondary Character] Luke's ex-wife; remarried; lived in Houston with 2 daughters (5) allergic to fur (38) notorious for shutting of the ringer off on her phone, then checking messages; low-pitched, Southern, seductive voice (69) remarried Martin Hutchins; lived in modest home Luke had purchased (70) drove old Volvo station wagon (79) blond, blue-eyed and beautiful, like Amy (84) wearing artfully applied makeup to the disguise the fact that her eyes were a little too small and a little too close together and that her upper lip was almost nonexistent; Luke had paid for rhinoplasty to give her a nose she liked better, and since their divorce, she'd had her breasts enlarged; curvy body (85) grew up in Bitter Creek; interested in climbing the social ladder (92) pregnant (340)
Jen[One Appearance] Luke's next door neighbor; a writer; worked out of her home (130)
Lady[Animal] mare Amy was riding across Three Oaks (8)
Nicole "Nick" "Nicki" Maldonado[POV] [Major Secondary Character] friend of Luke's from litigation department of D&B (70) transferred to litigation section 3-y-a from a Washington, D.C. firm, where she'd specialized for the previous five years in antitrust litigation; worked longer hours than Luke did, both days of the weekend and most holidays; a model-worthy pair of legs; was very nearly beautiful but kept her auburn hair cut boyishly short and wore Oxford cloth shirts and pin-striped wool suits to the office, cut to conceal her figure; generously endowed; fighting an uphill battle trying to make partner (71) no personal life; looked tired, had wrinkles in her brow and bags under her eyes, even though she was a year younger than Luke; had never been married (72) a political animal (73) Stage II Breast Cancer; mother hand died of breast cancer (108) slaved 5 years at Bailey, Wise, Stockton, Hargraves & Kale in D.C. (109) had never failed at anything she'd attempted (211) straight A report cards; tennis trophies; valedictorian of her high school class; selected for Phi Beta Kappa; had been on the law review (211) good at being self-sufficient and detached (218)
Dr. Harold McCorkle[Brief Appearances] invented D-Free; holds 20% of the patent; sold the rest to Hyland, where he was now Executive Vice President of Research and New Product Development (174) attending medical seminar; wouldn't be back for 2 weeks (187) wearing glasses with small, trendy metal frame; obviously had an expensive barber and an even more expensive tailor; of medium height with a wiry build; receding gray hair was closely cropped; gray eyes were direct; smoked (240)
Nolan Monroe[No Appearance] Callie Creed's first husband (25)
Detective Morales[One Appearance] joined the D&B management committee meeting; burly; experienced at his job; arrested Justin Sterling (394)
Waverly Morris[One Appearance] member of D&B's management committee; rabid vegetarian who ran the firm's environmental law practice (384)
Edward Arthur Mull, I[No Appearance] Eddie's grandfather; senior U.S. Senator from New Hampshire; stroke paralyzed his right side (175)
Edward Arthur Mull, II[No Appearance] Eddie's father; U.S. Congressman from New Hampshire (175)
Edward "Trip" Arthur Mull, III[POV] [Major Secondary Character] young man; whitest skin Luke had ever seen (64) pair of Harry Potter-like tortoiseshell frames; surprisingly firm grip; mouthful of very white, very even teeth; attended Harvard; would be working with Luke; 24-y-o (65) Luke called him "Eddie" (65) first in his class (174) groomed to follow in his father and grandfather's political footsteps; Mary Margaret chosen for him (175) did not want to go into politics, wanted to be a regular guy; head over heels in love with his wife (177)
Mary Margaret Kirkland Mull[Brief Appearances] Edward Arthur Mull, III's wife; very pretty; very pregnant; redhead (65) naively candid; bubbling honesty was charming (66) chosen to be Eddie's wife; a debutante whose family had oodles of money and no other child to will it to (175) her family money was to supply Eddie's campaign funds; nothing remotely subdued or politically correct about her; opened many personal doors previously closed to Eddie; expected Eddie to think for himself (176) knew exactly the right thing to say to make a man want to chuck everything and head for home (178)
Carl Nash[No Appearance] Amy's ex-husband; much older man; an orthopedic surgeon; from Virginia (9) IRS came after him for lying about his Medicare income from patient care for years; owed millions of dollars in back taxes; took everything he had; put him in prison; never hit Amy nor Honor, his cruelty was more subtle than that (152) father and uncle have money, which he will inherit; spoiled (228) liar; cheater (229)
Honor Nash[Brief Appearances] Amy's 10-y-o daughter; the light of Amy's life (19) went to school with Brynne Creed; pale, quiet child; petite; blond hair (86)
Nell[One Appearance] wizened woman who had functioned as Franklin DeWitt's right hand since he joined the firm in the late 50s (59)
James Russo[No Appearance] a D&B client that Justin Sterling and Nicki Maldonado met with during the firm's fall picnic (111)
Savannah[No Appearance] one of the few women Drew had dated more than twice (183)
Slim[One Appearance] cowboy who meet Luke and Amy at the Homestead to take care of their horses (23)
Snowball[Animal] scruffy cat; only had three legs; missing the tip of her tail and most of one ragged ear (37) the cat Brynne and Midge had picked out at the shelter when Luke took them to get a 'sorry your mother and I are getting divorced' consolation gift (38) grayish-brownish-whitish fur (39) now slept on Luke's bed (40)
Justin Sterling[Secondary Character] head of litigation at D&B; drover Mercedes; married man (77) 3 kids; wife sent brownies to work with him on weekends and holidays (78) tall; lean; wore a mustache that made him resemble Tom Selleck; smart; quick-witted; amusing (110) office stacked so high with paper, it was a wonder he could find anything (190) big in the way Texas men were; tall and sturdy as an oak; broad shoulders; quick (358) owned 12% of D-Free patent (360)
Trey [Sterling][No Appearance] Justin Sterling's son; made varsity football team at Rice (112)
Theresa[No Appearance] one of the few women Drew had dated more than twice (183)
Ms. Walters[One Appearance] Dr. McCorkle's secretary; a middle-aged woman wearing a form-fitting dress that was half a size too small; her hair up in a ratted twist high on her head; too-red lipstick and black eyeliner gave her a hard edge; the placement and size of her desk directly outside the door to McCorkle's office verified that she wielded a great deal of power (237) executive assistant; stubborn (238)
Detective Washington[One Appearance] joined the D&B management committee meeting; burly; experienced at his job; arrested Justin Sterling (394)

Locations, Organizations Found In "The Price"
Location / Organization Description
Bailey, Wise, Stockton, Hargraves & Kalelaw firm in D.C. where Nicole "Nick" "Nicki" Maldonado slaved for 5 years (109)
Bayou City Medical Centerrenamed Twelve Oaks; hospital Luke took Drew to (182)
Bitter Creek Cattle Companyvast corporate empire that encompassed Bitter Creek and Three Oaks (5)
Castle, thethe Castle-size ranch house where Blackjack had once ruled Bitter Creek (28)
Commerce Towerslocated in downtown Houston (7) condo Luke moved into after his divorce (70)
D-FreeHyland Pharmaceuticals's new miracle drug (43)
DeWitt & Blackthornelargest law firm in Texas (7) Blackjack's grandfather was founding partner of firm (44) second-largest law firm in the country; one of the largest in the world (46)
Grogan's Landingsubdivision in The Woodlands; where Amy rented an apartment (92)
Guadalajara Mexican Grilleone of Valerie's favorite restaurants; close to The Woodlands Mall (83)
Hardy, Christian and Jamesfirm Mrs. Anastasio hired (43) Amy's employer (52)
Homestead, thethe two-story white frame house at Three Oaks in which Luke had grown up (22)
Houston, Texaswhere Luke lived and worked (2)
Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spaa four star, four diamond resort set amid towering pines and sleek Oaks only 7 miles from downtown; Drew had a racket club membership (167)
Hyland PharmaceuticalsD&B's largest client; Luke assigned to them (33) brand new miracle drug might be killing the very people it was meant to help (40) the firm's largest single client, accounted for 17% of overall revenues; every potential partner was rotated through the corporate section in order to evaluate whether they'd be able to work with the powers that be at Highland (44)
Post Rice Loftsthe old Rice Hotel in downtown Houston; where Nicki Maldonado lived (113)
Richmond, Virginiawhere Amy had lived with her husband and daughter (9)
River Oaks Country Clubwhere D&B was holding the firm's fall picnic; Blackjack was a member; Luke hated what it represented (59)
The Woodlandsa planned community north of Houston where Luke's ex-wife lived (7)
Three Oakspeace of land owned by the Creeds along Bitter Creek, a trickle of water that never ran dry, even in the driest years (2) located smack dab in the middle of the Blackthorne ranching empire (3) Creed family's hundred square mile South Texas ranch (46)
Wholesome FoodsMrs. Anastasio was owner and CEO; produced a nationally known line of tomato-based products, including spaghetti sauce (56)
. . . . . .
Legal Abbreviations:
CRCClinical Research Coordinator (42)
CROContract Research Organization (42)
FDAFood and Drug Administration (43)
IRBInstitutional Review Board (42)
MTDMaximum Tolerated Dose (43)
PIPrivate Investigator (43)

"The Price" Quotations
16She'd wanted someone responsible.   Someone reliable.   Someone she could count on to stand by her when times got tough.   She had been so sure Luke could never be that man.   So she'd married Carl Nash.   (Amy)
21Amy knew, deep in her heart, that she had turned out every bit as afraid to reach out and grab for life as her agoraphobic mother.   (Amy)
36"To get on with your life.   To make the best of a bad situation.   We all have to do it.   Life isn't a bed of roses.   It's full of bloody thorns.   The wounds will heal if you will let them."   (Amy)
57He had never gotten over her, and he couldn't help thinking here was a second chance.   (Luke)
63"I'm just not willing to bend myself out of shape to be what someone else expects me to be," Drew said.   "It isn't worth it."   (Drew)
63Luke wasn't about to explain why it was so important to him to make something of himself -- and to do it on his own.   No one had believed Luke would ever amount to anything.   He'd rather have his fingernails yanked out with pliers than admit he'd spent ten years proving -- to a man he hated and a woman he loved -- that they should have had more faith in him.   (Luke)
94"I need someone who can love me back, Luke. You're too busy hating the world to love anyone," she accused.   (Amy)
104"I don't want the responsibility for molding someone else's life.   It's too easy to make a mistake."   (Drew)
133Luke desperately wanted to make a connection with Brynne.   (Luke)
197Amy didn't want to spend the rest of her life without love.   Life was full of risks.   Sometimes you got hurt.   But the alternative was to spend the rest of your life alone.   (Amy)
260I don't think I can make it through the rest of my life without you."   (Luke)
300Amy was afraid to put her life in another man's hands.   She certainly didn't want to love a man so much she could be hurt again.   (Amy)
325Luke wondered what it was about her that made him want to be a better man, to live up to the standard she expected from him.   (Luke)
345He didn't want to think anymore.   He didn't want to hurt anymore.   (Luke)

"Joan Johnston -- The Price" Review and Information Links
Rated Posted Site Notes, Comments, Etc.
----Joan Johnston's WebsiteAuthor
----Joan Johnston's FacebookAuthor
. . . . . . . . .. . .
3.92 average{25 reviews}Amazonas of: December 20, 2014
3.83 average{23 ratings}Barnes & Nobleas of: December 20, 2014
----Fantastic FictionList of Joan Johnston's Books
----Fict FactList of Books In The "Bitter Creek" Series
----Fiction DBList of Joan Johnston's Books
Article06-24-2014Fresh FictionJoan Johnston -- The Challenges of Writing a Series
3.91 average{518 ratings}Good Readsas of: December 20, 2014
3.66 average{25 ratings}Library Thingas of: December 20, 2014
3.70 average{110 ratings}Paperback Swapas of: December 20, 2014
----Order of BooksList of Joan Johnston's Books
5.00 average{4 reviews}Shelfarias of: December 15, 2014
4.4512-20-2014Wolf Bear Does Booksshorter post on Amazon, Fiction DB, Good Reads, Library Thing, Shelfari

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♥   Very Subjective Rating

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