Catherine Anderson is best known for her western historical romances. Baby Love is her second full-length contemporary. While there is lots to like about this book, it is not without flaws. The horribly victimized heroine is more likely to arouse readers’ pity than their sympathies; only in fiction could such a impossibly perfect hero materialize precisely when and where the heroine needed him; the villain is horror-novel-worthy slimy.
Most disappointingly, Baby Love bears more than a passing similarity to the author’s first contemporary, Forever After. Baby Love does feature a tense plot and the author’s fine writing. Most readers will be easily caught up in the story, but at the end they may feel the same vague sense of dissatisfaction that I did.
After the devastating loss of his beloved wife and children, Rafe Kendrick is riding the rails and drowning his feelings of guilt in booze. He makes it a practice not to get involved in others’ business, but when he sees a young woman with a baby facing assault by other men in a railroad boxcar, he comes to her defense.
Maggie Stanley is fleeing her evil stepfather, Lonnie Boyle (what a singularly appropriate surname!), who has severely beaten her. Without any supplies for her infant son Jaimie, she offers herself to Rafe for baby bottles and formula. Rafe, however, is far too noble to take her up on her offer. He pawns his diamond wedding ring in order to pay for a motel room and baby things.
Maggie’s injuries lead to her becoming critically ill. Even though Rafe tries to nurse her, he is forced at last to take her to a hospital. Rafe has gotten enough clues that Maggie is running from someone, and he resolves that he will protect the young woman he is falling in love with. Rafe is no common railroad bum but is rather a member of a wealthy Oregon ranching family with ample resources at his disposal.
Lonnie shows up at the hospital claiming that Maggie had signed the papers for a private adoption then fled with the money rather than turn Jaimie over. Rafe knows he’s lying and overhears him threatening her. Rafe convinces Maggie that by marrying him and naming him as the father on Jaimie’s birth certificate she and her baby will be safe.
Over the years Maggie has developed a great distrust of men, and there are yet more horrifying secrets to be revealed. Can Maggie and Rafe achieve a happy marriage and a loving future?
As I read Baby Love, I was struck by the parallels to Forever After. Beautiful woman with innocent child fleeing brutal past. Hero with a personal tragedy in his past coming to her rescue. Morally bankrupt villain in unrelenting pursuit. Threat that the law may aid the villain and trip up the good guys. Heroine’s reluctance to engage in intimacy shot down in blazing passion. Family connections smoothing the bumpy road.
Heath Masters of Forever After, however, was an ordinary working man (well, almost ordinary) doing the best he could. Rafe Kendrick is so completely over the top he strains credulity. Can you believe a multimillionaire riding the rails? Packing in the wasted life and the booze for instant sensitivity and commitment to rescue fair damsel in distress? How about a guy who teaches a woman how to express breast milk by hand? It wouldn’t surprise me if he started walking on water.
Maggie’s characterization is a little more realistic than Rafe’s but still seems overdone. She’s nobly sacrificed herself to save her little sister, suffered horrible abuse, dashed heroically into danger to protect her son, and is able to bring new financial management to the ranch with no prior training in business. An honest-to-goodness saint couldn’t have done it better. But she’s not so smart that she doesn’t run into the deep woods in the face of a winter storm precipitating a crisis. (She does admit later it was a dumb thing to do.)
As emotionally gripping as it is, Baby Love seems manipulative and contrived. Every impoverished and abused young woman should be so lucky as to have a multimillionaire around to solve all her problems. And how about the fancy restaurant in ranch country where men have to wear suits and women cocktail dresses?
A mother’s struggle for survival for herself and her child presented so movingly in Forever After seems stretched to the point of disbelief in the excess of Baby Love.