A white-bread take on the stock elements of southern family saga--family secrets, eccentric relatives, the importance of place, and the girl who falls in love with a handsome boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Fourteen-year-old Roanie Sullivan, a motherless boy whose father, Big Roan, is a violent drunk, is an outcast in the small Georgia town of Dunderry. But nine-year-old Claire Maloney, the spoiled daughter of a large, prominent family, springs to his defense--offering him rides to school and helping to clear him when he's accused of stealing money. Despite his traumatic upbringing, Roanie is responsible and upright, and, after Claire's cousin Carlton knocks out some of his teeth in a fight, the Maloneys offer him a home. Roanie works hard around the Maloneys' farm and causes peace to break out between the family's warring matriarchs; meanwhile, he and Claire become best friends and swear a chaste love. Then Claire, seeking help after her Great-Gran has a car accident, stumbles into Big Roan's trailer; he hits her and threatens to rape her before Roanie shows up and shoots his father dead. Roanie is sent to a foster home, while Claire is left to brood about him. Shift then to 20 years later: Roan, who's nursed his passion for Claire but failed to get in touch, has become a millionaire real-estate speculator and adopted a son, Matthew, who, according to rumor, is the illegitimate child of Claire's uncle. When Roan learns that Claire, now a prizewinning reporter, has been badly injured while fleeing a wife-batterer who's angry about one of her stories, he seeks her out. The two fall effortlessly back in love, and the last hundred or so pages can only defer their happiness through red-herring complications. A cloyingly sweet love story whose willful heroine and grudge-bearing hero remain strangely unsympathetic.