I really admire an author who can take a seemingly unadmirable character from one book and turn her into the heroine of another book (or him into the hero). Cheryl Reavis achieves this impressive feat in The Long Way Home. After reading her Little Darling, the last person I would have expected to meet as a heroine is Rita Warren!
When last we saw Rita she was shaking the dust of Fayetteville, North Carolina, off her shoes and heading for Las Vegas. "Ready Rita" had been an exotic dancer at one of the clubs that catered to the servicemen from nearby Fort Bragg. A one night stand with Sergeant Matt Beltran (which he didn't even remember) had left her pregnant. When the demands of single motherhood overwhelmed her, she left her infant daughter in Matt's car. That act had precipitated Matt's romance with Olivia's foster mother, Corey. Rita had surrendered custody of her daughter to her father and new stepmother and headed west to follow her dream of being a Las Vegas showgirl.
Now Rita has returned to Fayetteville. She was a success in Las Vegas, but she discovered that success didn't mean all that much when she was thousands of miles away from the daughter she really loved. So she saved her money and has come back to make a life for herself near Olivia. She enrolls in community college to get her GED and seeks to resume a personal relationship with the child she left behind.
A wary Matt does not exactly welcome Rita with open arms. But he does tell her that her friend "Bugs" Doyle is in the hospital. Doyle was badly burned when a helicopter crashed, leaving all on board dead except Doyle and Lieutenant Mac McGraw. Like Bugs, Mac suffered serious burns.
When Rita goes to see Bugs at the hospital, she has a run in with the bad tempered Mac. In typical Rita fashion, she gives as good as she gets. Subsequent encounters are equally tempestuous, until Rita in an aside mentions that she needs help with her algebra. Mac, who has been unwillingly intrigued by the striking and feisty woman who refuses to
offer cloying sympathy for his plight, surprises himself by volunteering to tutor her.
Mac is as different from Rita as night from day. The only son of a prominent Savannah family, he disappointed his parents – and especially his mother – by joining the army rather than going to law school and joining the family firm. His proper fiancée is none too happy with the idea of being an army wife; nor is she comfortable with the injuries Mac has suffered.
This is a richly textured story. In addition to the improbable romance between the socialite and the exotic dancer, it describes the challenge Rita faces in reestablishing a relationship with her daughter as well as her attempts to rebuild her life and leave behind all the unhappy baggage from the past.
Rita is the same person who caused such difficulties in Little Darling, but she has grown and matured. She is the same, yet very different. That Mac would fall in love with her seems perfectly reasonable. That she would come to love him also seems perfectly plausible.
Reavis does an especially good job in delineating Mac's character. He suffers not only from excruciating physical pain, but also from emotional trauma. He experiences "survivor's guilt" as well as the fear that the injuries will end his army career. Rita's ability to understand his feelings and her support when neither his family nor his
fiancée can comprehend what he is going through mean more to him than he
realizes. But he has to come to terms with her past.
The Long Way Home is an immensely satisfying love story. Reavis often creates unlikely pairings in her books (think of the rough, tough paratrooper and the minister's widow in Little Darling) but she manages to convince the reader that the hero and heroine are absolutely right for each other. And she always makes the reader care deeply for her characters.
This book will go on my keeper shelf. In my opinion, Cheryl Reavis is one of the best authors of short romances and The Long Way Home simply confirms my opinion. Don't miss this one.