What do you get when you combine (1) lust at first sight, (2) a secret baby plot, (3) a sprinkle of second chances, and (4) a dash of the coming home theme? In this case, you get a basic recipe for Jade Taylor’s Wild Cat and the Marine. What you don’t get are title characters or a story interesting enough to engage the reader.
Catherine Darnell (known as “Wild Cat” in high school) is raising her daughter, Joey, on her family farm in Engerville, North Dakota. She and her father drifted from place to place before finally making the farm a home. When the book begins, Catherine’s father has been dead for several months, and she has resolved to create a steady home for Joey and herself.
Jackson Gray returns to Engerville when he learns that his estranged father was seriously injured. He joined the marines right after graduating from high school because he couldn’t wait to leave farm life behind. He didn’t know that he also left Joey behind, the daughter he fathered on prom night. Now that he’s back, he enjoys spending time with Cat and Joey, and doesn’t understand why Cat seems reluctant to resume their friendship.
Cat finds herself attracted to Jackson just as she was in high school, but she worries that he will get too close. She doesn’t want him to know that Joey is his daughter, and she’s made a life for herself and Joey at the farm. Cat believes that since Jackson hated life at his family’s farm, he would never be content to stay there with her. These two issues provide the conflict of the novel.
The result follows the typical secret baby plot fairly closely—it’s by the book. Readers of romance have expectations of a happy ending. Wild Cat and the Marine provides one, but I also predicted every step along the way, which made the reading experience less than enjoyable.
The immediate lust didn’t help matters. Cat and Jackson aren’t strangers—they had a friendship and a one-night sexual relationship. Since then, they’ve had no contact. Suddenly Jackson is back, and they’re both overwhelmed with lust. This kind of chemistry is a staple of the romance genre. When well depicted, a strong initial attraction evolves into something more meaningful. Cat and Jackson’s relationship never quite rises above their shallow physical feelings. Cat asks herself an important question: “Why had her attention settled so securely on one skinny redheaded boy that nearly fifteen years after meeting him, she still ached with unrequited love?” A good question, one that goes unanswered.
As for the writing, non-sequiturs were common throughout. After seeing Cat for the first time and asking to spend time with her, Jackson reflects: “Stopping by to see Cat . . . wasn’t in the cards. Logic dictated that he stay away from her.” At this point there’s no logical reason for him to stay away. He and Cat were friends; why shouldn’t they spend time together? One awkward phrase made me cringe: “Her breasts made his hands itch.” Presumably Jackson is itching to touch her breasts, not indicating that her breasts give him an allergic reaction.
In the end, itching hands are no substitute for compelling chemistry. Likewise, Wild Cat and the Marine is no substitute for a good romance. For unique and pleasurable reading, I suggest substituting another book.