|It’s so nice to see an author not only come back and write a historical, but a western historical to boot. Summer Breeze features a lot of the trademarks that made Catherine Anderson a fan favorite – a commitment shy hero, a wounded heroine with serious issues, and a homespun storytelling style running through a tender, sweet romance.
Five years ago Rachel Hollister’s family was murdered while they were picnicking by the river on their ranch property. The entire family was slaughtered, with only Rachel surviving. When she woke up from a coma, she quickly developed agoraphobia. Rachel cannot tolerate open spaces. She comes completely unhinged, is unable to breathe and eventually blacks out. So she now lives in one room of her family’s ranch house, the kitchen, which is completely locked down and barricaded.
One day, while looking for a stray calf, her trusted ranch hand, Darby, is shot in the back. The old man somehow manages to make it to the neighboring ranch, owned by Joseph Paxton. Darby is insistent that Rachel is in danger. Never mind that the two incidents are years apart, Darby is convinced him getting shot has everything to do with the murder of Rachel’s family. He’s afraid whomever is behind both will go after Rachel and finish the job. He begs Joseph to go over to the Bar H ranch and look after the girl.
Joseph gives Darby his word. Needless to say things get off to a rocky start when Rachel almost blows his head off with her shotgun.
What eventually unfolds is a tender love story about two people who are not looking for love. Joseph is bachelor from the top of his head to the soles of his comfortable boots. He considers himself a “buffet” man. Why have one woman when you can sample the charms of many? And Joseph’s cardinal rule? Only dally with women who aren’t proper ladies. Proper ladies are for marrying, and Joseph isn’t about to do that!
Rachel is a classic agoraphobic. She’s completely sane, but has a deep-seeded fear of being out in the open. She suffers from nightmares as well, and only remembers glimpses of what happened the day her family was killed. However, just thinking about those flashes of memory, or talking about them out loud, sends her into a complete panic.
One would think these obstacles would make a romance nearly impossible to swallow, but somehow Anderson makes it work. Joseph is nothing but charming, and is such an understanding guy that he’s soon looking for ways to make Rachel’s life more tolerable. While, at times, these ideas and plans smack of enabling, the reader soon realizes that Joseph is helping Rachel take baby steps back into a normal existence.
Summer Breeze is actually a sequel of sorts to Keegan’s Lady, with couple Ace and Caitlin making an appearance in this story. It is also connected to the author’s long running contemporary Coulter family series. One would think that would give Summer Breeze an acute case of series-itis, but it stands alone remarkably well. Readers can take that fact to the bank, as this reviewer hasn’t read any of the previous stories. The author provides a handy family tree in the front of the book, which will provide a bevy of good news for fans of Anderson’s historicals. Yes, more are on the way!
The mystery surrounding the murder of Rachel’s family comes to a satisfying conclusion, and while the author doesn’t generate a lot of suspects, she does keep the reader guessing. By the end of the story the reader believes that Rachel is in a safer, better place – and that she can overcome her fears. Sure the love of a good man helps, but finally having some answers and confronting her shadowed memories are really what help her move beyond her walls.
One can only hope that Anderson’s return to the historical sub genre will be met with much enthusiasm. With authors frequently abandoning ship for the seemingly more lucrative contemporary market, Anderson appears back on the scene with a very good, very tender, and very western love story – almost like she’s saying “gotcha!” Well this reviewer got it, and enjoyed it. Welcome back Ms. Anderson. It’s good to have you home.