I voluntarily requested an advance reader copy of this novel--it's been some time since I read a novel in the Harlequin Special Edition line, but the blurb sounded interesting, a second chance romance usually gets my attention, plus it was in a new-to-me series and was written by a new-to-me author, so I gave it a try, and since I seldom shy away from giving my honest opinion, I didn't find a lot to like in this novel, and, for a number of reasons, which I'll explain, I'm giving it only a 2 star rating.
Raven Reynolds and Donovan Cordero grew up together on neighboring ranches in coastal North Carolina--which was a revelation to this reader, since I've spent time in that part of the country and never knew there was cattle ranching happening there. I was also surprised to learn that both of the main characters in this novel are Hispanic, yet aside from a few mentions of the color of their skin and hair. Their rich Hispanic heritage--the music, the cuisine, the language, the customs, and their long history wasn't mentioned at all in this story, which made me wonder why the author chose to make her main characters Hispanic at all.
Ten years earlier, 19-year-old Donovan, who was as deeply in love with Raven as she was with him, and was on his way to meet her when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and inadvertently witnessed a cold-blooded murder, and he was shocked to see this murder carried out by the town sheriff and wealthy and powerful Karl Rivers, the father of Donovan's school friend, Carson Rivers. Because Donovan had protected Carson from the kids who bullied him at school, Mr. Rivers spared his life, but told him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn't leave town immediately and never come back, that he, his parents and Raven would be killed. So Donovan ran--and for 10 long years there's been no sign of him anywhere, despite a $50,000 reward, half of which was put up by Mr. Rivers, and years of searching for him in vain, years that broke Raven's heart and nearly destroyed his parents, no trace of him was ever found.
Fast forward 10 years, and we find Donovan living and working on a Texas ranch. when he hears that Karl Rivers has died--and knows that the threat to his loved ones is now over, so Donovan returns to Sweet Briar with no advance warning. His mother practically faints when he shows up at the family home, and his next stop after his reunion with his family is to see Raven, the love of his life, and, "Hi honey, I'm home" isn't going to cut it with Raven. His disappearance nearly drove his parents mad with grief, and tore Raven's heart out. The fact that he never got in touch with her or his family made absolutely no sense to me at all--burner phones exist, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms have all been available for the past decade. Why in the world and how on earth would he have thought that the people who loved him wouldn't want to at least learn that he was alive and well, even if he couldn't tell them where he was or return without endangering them?
There's more than one surprise waiting for him at Raven's family home--her mother, who used to care deeply for Donovan, welcome him, and thought highly of him, doesn't even want to make eye contact because she and Raven's dad had to deal with Raven's heartbreak, and that meeting with Raven he missed? She was going to tell him that she was pregnant with his child, and her family had to support her through her emotional breakdown after he disappeared, deal with her pregnancy and the birth of Donovan's son, Elias. Raven is also scheduled to marry Carson Rivers in one month. She doesn't love him, which is fine with her, because if she doesn't love him, he can't break her heart the way Donovan did.
Raven doesn't welcome her long-lost love, nor does she even want to tell Donovan that he has a son, but when Elias enters her parents home, Donovan sees himself at age 9 in the boy, and knows that Elias is his, knows he missed out on Raven's pregnancy, the birth of his son, and the first 9 years of his son's life. While he wants to be a part of his his son's life, Raven simply introduces him as an old friend. She knew and loved Donovan at age 19, now he's 29 and she doesn't really know him or trust him anymore, just as he doesn't really know anything about what her life has been like for the past 10 years, so despite what Donovan wants, Raven is calling the shots when it comes to Elias, and she's being protective of her son, at least until she knows this older version of the man she once loved.
One of the things that I had a problem with almost from the moment Donovan returns and goes to see Raven is why he doesn't simply tell her the reason he left town and disappeared without a word to anyone. Granted, Raven is now engaged to Karl Rivers son, but he doesn't have to name names, he merely needs to tell her that he left because he loved her and because Raven and his parents lives would have been in danger if he stayed, and that having them going to the crooked town sheriff for protection would have put them in even greater danger. Again--he could have made a phone call, sent a text, gotten in touch with them somehow. And if Donovan thinks he's going to pick up his relationship with Raven where he left off 10 years earlier, develop a relationship with his son, and then they'll all ride happily into the sunset, he's got another think coming.
So, how does someone who's been missing for 10 years pick up the threads of his former life? What about Raven's engagement to Carson Rivers? Is Elias going to be told that Donovan is more than just an old friend of the family? How will he react if and when he learns that Donovan is his father? Will he and Raven have a second chance at love? Quite honestly, most of the drama in this novel could have been avoided if the two main characters actually communicated with each other--the waffling Raven goes through is a prime example of that lack of communication. The more I kept reading, the more I kept shaking my head. Raven's passive/aggressive behavior made her seem incredibly immature, and exactly why these two characters loved each other, beyond outward appearances, was and is still a mystery to this reader, especially considering the way the HEA ending was portrayed.
If you're looking for a quick read and a second chance romance, you may like this novel more than I did, but there are far better second chance romances out there, and I suggest you give this one a pass--I'm sorry, but I cannot recommend it.
- Mass Market Paperback: 217 pages
- Publisher: Harlequin Books; Original edition (19 February 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1335573747
- ISBN-13: 978-1335573742
- Product Dimensions: 10.4 x 1.6 x 16.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 90.7 g
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