Publication Date: January 1, 1999
Series or Standalone: Texas Trilogy #3
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads – StoryGraph
CW: Murder; gun violence; pregnancy; animal death
I absolutely adore the Texas Trilogy series, and Texas Splendor wraps up the main novels with sweet baby Austin’s story, though I don’t think I can call him that anymore as he’s now a man with some emotional baggage. I’ve been looking forward to Austin’s story since Texas Destiny, yet this book is my least favorite in the series. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed this one, but it didn’t pack the same punch as the other books.
After five years in prison, Austin Leigh is finally a free man and cannot wait to go home to be reunited with his sweetheart. However, when he gets home, he learns she’s moved on and married, shattering his dreams and making him more determined to clear his name of the crime he didn’t commit. On his way to the state capital, he meets Loree Grant, a young woman living alone. After her family was murdered, she isolated herself out on their old property, afraid to move on and live her life. She intrigues Austin, and he intrigues her, and the two find comfort, peace and hope for the future in together’s arms.
Austin continues to be one of my favorite characters, mainly because I have such an attachment to him after watching him grow up over the years in the three books in the series. He’s gone on a major journey that’s left scars on him. In this book, he’s much more closed off and jaded – prison has changed him. Even though his family has his back, he’s isolated and lonely as the label “murderer” hangs over him everywhere he goes. Yet he still has a good heart and a sweet soul. He’s got a deep-rooted sense of honor and will put others’ needs before his own. I liked watching his journey in this book as he found his way back to himself.
Loree is in a very similar boat as Austin. This girl has BAGGAGE. She’s got some major demons in her past, and she has a secret that she’s never revealed. To protect herself emotionally, she’s isolated herself from others – a lonely existence. When she meets Austin, there is an instant connection as she can see her loneliness and pain reflected in him. Fate was always going to bring them together as their lives were intertwined without them even knowing it. She also has a similar sense of honor as he does, so they’re a match made in heaven. However, she’s probably my least favorite female character in this series. Because we’re kept in the dark about aspects of her past, I got a little frustrated with how she acted because I didn’t understand why she acted that way until later.
Now, this book might have the most outrageous plot of all the books in the series. While this book is 100% a romance, it also leans into the murder mystery plot quite a bit – with some fun twists. Lorraine Heath drops lots of breadcrumbs to show you where the story is going, and while I correctly predicted some of the twists, I was still shocked when they were revealed. The ending did go in a wildly different direction than I expected, and I love that Lorraine Heath can still surprise me with her stories. However, I did find the pacing in this book to be a little off. Parts of the story dragged for me while others moved really quickly, and I wished some plotlines I had had more of a setup.
I think some of my issues with the pacing also had to do with the romance. There were some tropes in this book that I’m personally not a major fan of, including a surprise baby. I get that birth control was not prevalent during the time, but I wasn’t expecting a baby so early in the book. Loree and Austin had a very surface-level relationship, and then boom – baby! There also wasn’t much romantic tension or banter between them – their romance comes with a lot of emotional baggage on both sides – which meant Lorraine Heath had to do a lot more work to convince me these two should end up together. Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate how misdirection and grudges were a key part of their relationship, as it took a while for everything to be resolved between them. I came around to them being together in the end, but it wasn’t an instant connection for me to buy their love.
The good definitely outweighed the bad with this book in the end. I loved seeing all the Leigh brothers again and seeing how much they’ve grown over the years. I also love seeing how much their little corner of west Texas has changed over the years. In Texas Destiny, they were still relatively isolated with no main town, but now the town Dallas’ formed called Leighton is booming, and they even have a theater where visiting orchestras and acts come to visit.
Lorraine Heath also wraps up the series with the most perfect of epilogues. Seriously, no one writes an epilogue quite like Lorraine Heath. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. The epilogue was the perfect goodbye to the series, giving us a peek into the lives of all the characters we’ve grown to love over three books many years later. It always warms my heart to see the happily ever after extending decades after the book’s main action, and that’s exactly what this epilogue did.
I’m so glad I finally picked up the Texas Trilogy, as it surpassed my wildest dreams. While Texas Splendor fell a bit short of my expectations, this series is still superb in my book, and I’m so glad I took the time to revisit it! The books may have been published in the 90s, but they’re just as good today.