One of the hotly debated issues in romance novels is the epilogue — many readers demand them and some hate them. For me, the issue is really about why the author has an epilogue in the first place. Is it a tasty peek into the future to reward the reader for having stuck with the characters throughout their journey? Or is it a desperate attempt to prove that two characters who weren’t really suited for one another throughout could really stick the landing? Or just a lazy way to sweep up dangling plot threads?
For an example of epilogues done right, look no further than Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. If you’ll forgive the pun, Bailey builds such a solid foundation in this series about a group of friends and relatives in the house restoration business that the epilogues are like a bonus room, rather than a joist added on last to prop up a shaky structure.
Bailey’s not just an excellent writer, but terrific at weaving interlocking arcs and creating characters who are fully fleshed out and a part of each book, rather than walk-on cameos there to set up the next installment in the series. But it’s not her blueprints, but rather her fully realized conflicts and their resolutions that make her novels such a pleasure to read.
The initial offering, Fix Her Up, about youngest child and professional clown Georgette “Georgie” Castle and former major league baseball player Travis Ford, is a quirky beginning that delivers by the end of the book, although there’s an arc that continues through the series. But the best example of an epilogue done right is in the middle installment, Love Her or Leave Her, featuring the Castle siblings’ best friends, Rosie and Dominic Vega.
Rosie is an aspiring chef and Dom is an Army vet working for Brick & Morty. They’re married and miserable — so Rosie takes a major step and signs them up for couple’s counseling. But can a spaced-out hippie therapist really get through to by-the-book Dominic with exercises like sitting in nature and writing about … feelings?
It’s to Bailey’s credit that this second-chance romance works so well. This particular trope is one of the most difficult to write — the couple begins together and ends together. How do you make it compelling? The answer is by layering in believable, compelling conflict even as the hero and heroine work to resolve their issues. By the time we get to the epilogue, all of the conflicts have been worked through in the most satisfying way and our couple has learned how to function as a team. The epilogue is just a chance to put our feet up and enjoy the view.
The latest in the series, Tools of Engagement, tells the story of Bethany Castle, the older sister in the Brick & Morty renovation family, who we’ve been following since the first book. Bethany is a stager — a designer who creates inviting arrangements of furnishings for prospective buyers. Unfortunately, superficial elegance has consumed everything in Bethany’s life — her flawless presentation in all things hides the vulnerability beneath the surface. Her nemesis in this enemies-to-lovers story is Wes Daniels, a cowboy transplanted to Port Jefferson, NY, who works for Bethany’s brother flipping houses. Their communication consists of snark attacks and they can barely coexist in the same room. It’s a real surprise when Bethany declares she’s no longer staging; she’s going to flip her first house herself — and Wes is the only one who signs on to help.
The stakes are raised when a reality TV producer gets word that the Brick & Morty siblings have dueling house flips going on and decide to feature their renovations for a reality show called Flip Off. As Beth and Wes learn how to work together, they build a lot more than just a house. Bailey makes sure the characters earn their Happily Ever After as they navigate their differences, face their innate fears, and learn to open up and be vulnerable with one another. By the time you get to the epilogue, it’s all been worked out — and you’re just happy to see where they go from there. It’s a gorgeous bow for a well-written series.
All three books in the series are available for purchase.