Laurie Stephens and her mother have taken a big step–they bought a lovely old ranch home, and have opened a hotel in it. Despite both of them having held jobs in the hotel world, it’s not going well, and Laurie is getting worried…until Rolf Audley suddenly crashes into their lives–literally!
Rolf’s steering linkage broke, sending his car thrashing through the hedge, and destroying a concrete bird-bath…and breaking his leg. He is knocked unconscious, but comes to briefly before the ambulance arrives, and makes some rather forward remarks about the lovely young woman he sees.
Laurie is much put-out by this, and immediately takes a dislike to the stranger, but her mother, bless her sweet soul, has invited Rolf to stay at their hotel while he heals, since he lives in an upper-level flat, and can’t do stairs while his leg is in a cast! He’s paying handsomely, too, for he and his valet to stay.
This tale sets out with a moderately-interesting premise, for me; for once, it’s the man who’s the gimpy one, and needs a little convalescing. Unsurprisingly, Rolf chafes at the inactivity (he’s a guy, of course…they do that) and arranges for his staff from the toy factory he owns to come over and work with him, and therein we find our villain, of course.
What keeps this from being a good story, or even a great one, for me, is…well, it’s Laurie. She’s prickly, and just does not want to get along with Rolf, and over and over does things to drive him away, things that other men probably wouldn’t put up with, if they were rational. Of course, she’s a redhead–much is made of that stereotype–but really, that doesn’t explain away her shrewish behavior toward him. Despite him doing nice things for her, her mother, their old-maid housekeeper, and even their cat, she just keeps on being determined to dislike Rolf, while he just goes on being…very easy to like.
Aside from her downright-tacky behavior, we have here the makings of a really good tale; Rolf is charming and sweet to darn near everyone, despite his reputation as a no-nonsense business man, our villainess is trying to get her hooks into him, even going so far as to attempt to hurt Laurie to do it, and make Rolf look bad in her eyes through her machinations. Laurie and her mother have issues with what to do about the hotel, when her mother decides to marry, and resolution of all these loose ends is nice and tidy, and well-serves Rolf and Laurie finding happiness.
All in all, an interesting story, though, as I said, Laurie’s crankiness just gets in the way. There are some great side stories, like Rolf’s valet falling for the housekeeper, and Laurie’s mother falling for the accountant friend of Rolf’s who visited the hotel. It’s sweet seeing these older folks fall in love, but it just makes Laurie’s bad vibe stick out even more, for me. She explains it, at the end, but by then, she’s left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, and I just had trouble buying it.
Summer’s Lease was written toward the end of Margaret Malcolm’s rather-prolific career, in 1979. Some of the characterizations and descriptions remind me a little of Betty Neels, who was a contemporary. That made this story a little bit disappointing, to me; if there hadn’t been this one significant flaw, it would have been easily up there with some of Neels’ better stories on my list. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for other titles by Malcolm, to see if this one was a fluke.