Half Moon Hill
By Toni Blake
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Anna Romo loves her newly discovered family, but sometimes she finds them overwhelming. Despite her history, she still feels like an outsider in Destiny. Her solution is to devote her time and energy to renovations on the Victorian house she bought with the plan to transform it into a bed and breakfast. With the help of some new friends, she has completed the work on the interior, but the exterior still needs major work. She also realizes that she needs to master some recipes for the delectation of her future guests. With this thought in mind, she goes berry picking.
Duke Dawson has found a sanctuary in an old cabin secluded in the woods behind the house on Half Moon Hill. Wounded in body and spirit, struggling with survivor’s guilt and the belief that his scarred face renders him monstrous, he has become a recluse, cutting himself off even from Lucky Romo, his closest friend.
When Anna’s berry picking brings her into contact with the wild man in the woods, all she can think about is running for her life. She does not recognize her brother’s friend and fellow biker in the hairy derelict before her. In fact, when he calls her “Daisy Duke,” she’s convinced he’s mad. Even after he identifies himself, connects the “Daisy Duke” name to the shorts Anna is wearing, and explains he just wants to be left alone, Anna finds it hard to believe this bearded man is the Duke Dawson she had met earlier.
Duke insists on taking care of Anna’s sprained ankle, and she bakes him a blackberry cobbler as a thank you gift. This exchange of favors leads to an agreement that Duke will help Anna with the repairs to her house, and she will say nothing of his presence in her woods—not even to Lucky. In addition to painting, the house needs a new roof and work on the gutters, porch, trim, and shutters. Soon Anna and Lucky are spending a great deal time of together, and it doesn’t take long for the spark that ignited in Anna’s woods to become a consuming conflagration. But can Duke overcome his demons and accept Anna’s love, or will Anna find that her love story mirrors the sad tale of another house-and-cabin pair of lovers that is related in the old diary she discovers in her house?
Half Moon Hill is the sixth book in Toni Blake’s Destiny series. In the fifth book, Willow Springs, readers are introduced to Anna Romo, the sister of Lucky and Mike who was abducted as a five-year-old. Anna is not a likeable character in that book, and readers who have followed the series may find it difficult at first to warm up to her in the heroine’s role. But Blake reveals her vulnerabilities soon enough so that the sympathies of most readers will be awakened within early chapters. Duke’s history is revealed gradually as he opens up more and more to Anna, and each layer that is uncovered awakens new sympathies. In the case of his family, I wish the disclosures had been more fully detailed. I was frustrated by the unanswered questions about the family dynamics.
As is typical with a Toni Blake book, the sensuality level is high. The love scenes are frequent, hot, and graphic, but they also serve to reveal character and advance the plot. Blake uses elements of Beauty and the Beast and, more obviously, The Phantom of the Opera, in this story. I was happy that the love triangle that is suggested never really develops because Anna is a woman who knows what she wants and refuses to play games. The “other man” is a nice guy with definite hero potential, so I won’t be surprised to meet him later in the series.
Favorites from earlier Destiny books make appearances. There is a subplot that shows even BFFs and HEA couples sometimes hit a rough patch in their relationships. But none of these appearances distract the reader from Anna and Duke’s story. Just the reverse: they serve to enrich the primary characters.
I’ve been reading the Destiny books since the first one, and overall have found the characters appealing and their stories engaging. Willow Springs was a bit disappointing, but Half Moon Hill gave me exactly what I expect from a Toni Blake book—sweetness mixed with a super size of sizzle and an emotional journey that left me sighing and smiling.
Today’s review makes two in a row set in the Midwest, something of an anomaly in settings for small-town romances, which seem to be disproportionately set in the Northwest and Texas. What’s your favorite fictional small town?