By Lily Everett
Publisher: St. Martin’s
January 28, 2014
Dr. Ben Fairfax has a gifted touch with the four-footed animals that he treats in his veterinary practice on Sanctuary Island, but he has little patience for—and, frankly, little interest in most of the two-footed variety. One of the few exceptions to Ben’s disinterest in people is Meredith Preston, younger daughter of Jo Ellen Hollister. The free-spirited, effervescent Merry stirs feelings in Ben that have been dormant since he turned his back on his former life more than seven years ago. When Merry’s baby decides to make his appearance three weeks early in the middle of a storm, Ben delivers him. From the moment of his birth, the baby wraps his tiny fingers around Ben’s heart. Merry and young Alex together have Ben believing that perhaps he can have the family he thought could never be his.
Merry’s purpose in coming to Sanctuary Island was to establish a relationship with the mother she never knew, but Jo Ellen is so eager to make up for the past that she leaves Merry feeling smothered and overwhelmed. Now that she is a mother herself, Merry is discovering forgiveness may not be as simple as she thought. She has unresolved feelings about Jo Ellen’s abandonment of her. Despite these emotions, Merry is invested in the transformation of Windy Corner, the Hollister boarding and training stable into a therapeutic riding center. She just needs some space.
Four months after the birth of young Alexander Hollister Preston, Ben proposes that Merry marry him for their mutual convenience. He can offer her the space she needs from her mother while still remaining on Sanctuary Island and financial security for Alex, and she can allow him to adopt Alex, thereby assuring an heir to the distinguished Fairfax name. He promises that the marriage will be unconsummated until Merry wants a real marriage. The happy ending is assured, but first Ben and Merry will have to trust each other enough to defeat Ben’s scheming, snpbby parents and the unexpected appearance of young Alex’s biological father who suddenly is interested in being a daddy.
This is the second novel in Everett’s Sanctuary Island series, following last summer’s Sanctuary Island . I loved the first book, a women’s fiction/romance with an unforgettable setting that offered the best of both genres. The curmudgeonly Ben and spontaneous Merry are introduced in the first book, and I looked forward to their story. Unfortunately, it did not reach the level set by the first book.
I still like the characters, and while Merry is less the free spirit than she was, I could believe that the responsibilities of motherhood accounted for the changes. Baby Alex is adorable, and I loved the scenes where Ben and Merry become partners and they and Alex become a family. There is also a strong secondary plot involving two teens who are strikingly believable. I wanted more of them.
But marriage-of-convenience plots are a hard sale in contemporary romance, and this one seemed overly contrived. Ben’s parents resembled characters from a bad soap opera, and their interference in Ben’s life after years of distance as well as Ben’s failure to foresee their reaction to an heir who lacked Fairfax blood was difficult to believe.
Overall evaluation: This is a book with some clear strength but also with some flaws. It is not as outstanding as the earlier book, but it is good enough to keep me interested in the characters and to persuade me to book a return trip to Sanctuary Island.
Are you a fan of marriage of convenience tales? What’s your favorite book that uses this trope?