Rumor Has It [Book Series]

“Rumor Has It…” is a three-book romance novel series written by Penny Richards and published in 2000–2001 by Silhouette Books, an imprint of Harlequin Books. The three books are set in the fictional town of Lewiston, Arkansas, and center upon the themes of high school romance rekindled later in life and of hidden paternity coming to light.

The intended location of Lewiston is unclear. A map included in the first book, Sophie’s Scandal, places Lewiston in approximately the location of Mountain View (Stone County), and the cover of this first book depicts rolling hills, but a similar map in the next two books, Lara’s Lover and Judging Justine, has Lewiston corresponding a little more closely to Brookland (Craighead County) in northeastern Arkansas. Confusingly, in the narrative, Lewiston is described as located in a dry county in southern Arkansas, and various characters speak occasionally of going to Hot Springs (Garland County) or Texarkana (Miller County) for goods and services, so Lewiston might be intended as a stand-in for Lewisville (Lafayette County).

Sophie’s Scandal, released November 2000, opens with a prologue set in 1983. Sophie Delaney, a poor sixteen-year-old girl, has just lost her virginity to rich boy Reed Hardisty, a nineteen-year-old student at the University of Arkansas (UA). As the narrative reveals later, Sophie found herself pregnant following this liaison, and her own abusive father, Hutch, extorted money from Reed’s physician father, Rowland, in response. But Sophie refused to get the abortion Hutch demanded, and when he started beating her, she killed him with a shotgun. Sophie’s older brother Donovan told authorities he had committed the killing, and she took the $5,000 given to Hutch and left town, marrying a man named Jake Carlisle, giving birth to her daughter Cassidy, and settling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she worked as a family counselor. Reed never knew that Sophie was pregnant.

In the present day of 2000, following the recent death of Sophie and Donovan’s mother, Ruby, Donovan wants to return to Lewiston to start a landscaping business, although his real motivation is to reunite with Lara Hardisty (née Grayson), daughter of the late local banker Phil Grayson, as well as Reed’s ex-wife and principal of the local high school. Sophie, now widowed a few years, agrees reluctantly to help him move but is worried that Cassidy might discover the secret of her paternity. Four days later, she receives a call from her cousin Justine Sutton (daughter of Ruby’s twin sister Opal Malone), a country music star, who informs Sophie that she is pregnant and has been resisting the pressure from her manager to get an abortion. Back in 1983, Justine had been dating Reed’s best friend Wes Grayson, Lara’s brother, at same the time that Reed was dating Sophie, and it is later revealed that she became pregnant by Wes during a liaison they had while he was visiting Chicago.

On Sophie’s first night back in Lewiston, Reed drives up to the house, and she feels old emotions coming back. Reed himself feels regret for having broken off his relationship with Sophie at the urging of his father. He has a daughter from his marriage to Lara, named Isabelle (called Belle) after Lara’s great-aunt, Isabelle Duncan, who sits on the board of the local bank and once employed Ruby Delaney as a cleaning woman. Belle and Cassidy swiftly become friends despite their age difference.

At the local Woodcutter’s Festival, Sophie and family run into Opal, who informs them that she has late-stage cancer and has decided to forgo treatment so as to save her younger daughter, Molly, any burden. Sophie and Reed encounter each other at the festival, and later both show up, without having planned the meeting, at the “lover’s lane” where they once had sex. The next morning, Cassidy overhears Sophie and Donovan talking and discovers that Reed is her biological father. She goes to confront Reed, and Belle overhears this conversation, leading both girls to flee the scene together. Belle directs Cassidy to the house of her Uncle Wes, who is away at the moment, as a place to recover from the shock.

Reed goes to confront Sophie, and they have sex. Later in the evening, Belle confesses to Lara that Cassidy is at Wes’s house, and Reed goes to talk to her and explain the whole story. Together, they come back to Sophie and Donovan, and after Cassidy goes to bed, Sophie calls the county sheriff to explain to him and Reed the truth of her father’s murder. The sheriff thinks it best to “let sleeping dogs lie.” The book ends with Sophie and Reed taking the first step toward a new relationship.

Lara’s Lover, released in December 2000, starts with Donovan discovering that Lara is still angry at how he cut her out of his life following his arrest. Unbeknownst to Donovan, Lara had been pregnant with his child at the time, and her father and Rowland arranged for her to marry Reed to cover up the scandal, but shortly after the wedding, she suffered a miscarriage. Donovan admits to Lara that he moved back to Lewiston to be near her, and later Lara tells Donovan about what happened to her seventeen years ago. In the aftermath of their emotional confessions to each other, they have sex. Donovan wants to get married soon, but Lara is hesitant, especially given her position in the small town.

Later, a young woman in town, Lexie Jamerson, is raped, and the police question Donovan, who does not want to admit that he was in the company of Lara at the time. One of Donovan’s company shirts was found at the scene, and he is later arrested. Lara and Belle (who had heard her mother and Donovan having sex that night) separately arrive at the station to provide Donovan’s alibi. Too, Jett Robbins, who works for Donovan and had been dating Cassidy, remembers giving a company t-shirt to Darren Poteet, Lexie’s ex-boyfriend who, since their breakup, had been stalking her. In addition, Sheriff Micah Lawrence had seen Donovan’s truck at Lara’s place while having his own late-night rendezvous with Luella Meriweather, the widow of the former mayor. (In high school, the sheriff had also been in love with Ruby, before her unfortunate marriage, and later realized that he was Donovan’s biological father.)

As Donovan is about to go before the judge, both Lara and Belle are able to tell their story to the police chief, just as Jett brings Darren into the station. Darren confesses, and Donovan is freed. At the end of the book, Lara and Donovan are engaged to be married.

Judging Justine, released January 2001, opens on the night Justine and Wes had sex in Chicago. Seven months later, Justine drives back to Lewiston, visibly pregnant. She arrives in town just as her mother finally dies. Donovan lets her stay at the family home. Molly, Justine’s younger sister, comes by the next day, as does Wes, who confronts her over the pain he felt when, seventeen years ago, she left town without an explanation, and the fact that she left him abruptly after their liaison in Chicago. After some pressure, she acknowledges that he is the baby’s father, adding, “When I left here, I made myself a vow that I was going to make something of myself. No one would ever look down on me again, and they’d never make fun of me because I was poor or dressed in homemade clothes.” She tells Wes that he was one of the ones judging her back then, adding that the baby helped her put material success in perspective.

After the funeral, while cleaning out Opal’s house, Justine reveals to Molly, who has remained hurt by Justine’s absence all these years, that Opal’s second husband, Gene, had once, with the family’s rent payments falling behind, ordered Justine to get dressed up and go to Phil Grayson’s lake house to pay the rent and “keep him company for awhile.” There, Phil got her drunk and raped her, dropping her off at her family’s home the next morning. Her mother knew about this, saying to her, “Better Phil than Gene,” and after Gene attempted to molest Justine, she went to Phil, demanding money to leave town. During the housecleaning, they also find some of Opal’s diaries and discover that Phil was actually Molly’s biological father—that, at Gene’s insistence, Opal had been sleeping with Phil for a break on rent money.

Justine later meets Wes, and he proposes to her, but Rowland Hardisty soon drives up and reveals that he knows Phil had had sexual relations with Justine at the time she was dating Wes. Justine refuses to divulge any further information, and Wes drives her off, disgusted. On her way home, Justine crashes her car after a deer jumps in front of it. Rowland gets the call to prepare for surgery, and as he is about to leave, his own wife, Grace, announces that she is filing for divorce; among other things, Rowland had been carrying on an affair with his nurse, Trudy. Justine’s injuries send her into premature labor. She gives birth to a boy, who is sent to Little Rock (Pulaski County) for care. On the way out of the hospital, Rowland is shot by an unseen assailant. Cassidy, the granddaughter he refuses to acknowledge, has the same rare AB blood type and donates blood to save his life. Suspicion falls against one Carl Lawrey, in whose spousal abuse case Rowland had testified as a medical professional. Carl is soon arrested and admits to the crime.

Wes goes to talk to Sophie about what has happened, and Sophie has Molly bring over Opal’s diaries for him to read, and Wes later takes the diaries to Lara, revealing, among other things, that Molly is their half-sister. After Justine recovers sufficiently, they go to Little Rock to see their son. On the way back to Lewiston, Wes confesses his love for her. The last chapter opens seven months later, revealing that all the main characters are happy and that both Lara and Justine are expectant mothers.

For additional information:
Richards, Penny. Judging Justine. New York: Silhouette Books, 2001.

———. Lara’s Lover. New York: Silhouette Books, 2000.

———. Sophie’s Scandal. New York: Silhouette Books, 2000.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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