Desert Isle Keeper
A Reason to Live
My Desert Island Keepers are those in which the author has given me something to think about beyond the romance and the two people involved. A Reason to Live does that by extending what could be an ordinary on-the-road story into a commentary essential to all of us.
In fact, McKade’s entire series provides that zap to the soul that many seek when reading. Certainly, there are the requisite three brothers linking the books together and the tacky misleading covers that don’t give readers a hint of the gritty subject matter or the gut-wrenching plots. But what McKade gives readers besides a good romance is the visceral shock we look for in fiction.
Of the trio, this one is the most compelling. Out of the hundreds of men she looked after, Civil War nurse and widow Laurel Covey has collected the wishes of 21 dying soldiers in a little black book. Some have even given her mementos to pass along to their wives and families. At the war’s end with her Southern soldier husband dead, leaving Northerner Laurel estranged from her family, she sets off with her book and memories to visit the families of those soldiers. She wants to bring what we now call closure to the families and, if possible, to herself. Although she suffers nightmares and ghostly visions of the men who died and the wretched battlefield conditions, she is bound by her promises to the dead.
A woman traveling alone at the tumultuous end of the Civil War, however, is a target. In Tennessee, as she is surrounded by ruffians intent on robbing and raping her, she is saved by widower Creede Forrester who has left his cotton farm in Texas to find the nurse he’s been told was the last to see his sixteen-year-old son. Providentially, he saves Laurel, the woman he seeks.
Laurel can tell him nothing because his son, whose name she found on a warrant card in his pocket, was brought in dead, unlike his companion, a friend from an adjoining farm. Bereft, Creede decides to travel back to Texas with Laurel who has a message for the friend’s family, even though her route is a circuitous one as she visits the last four families on her list.
Once a hired gun, Creede feels as if the past twenty years of his life have been nothing but a waste. Having found the right woman, he was content to put up his guns and become a farmer, only to have his wife shot dead in front of him. Rebuilding his life with his son and adhering to his wife’s plea that he resist turning to guns again, he tried to persuade the boy not to run off to war. Now with his son dead, Creede has nowhere to go and nothing to live for. He does, however, feel protective of Laurel knowing the lawlessness surrounding them.
As love stories go, this one is rough and harsh. The grueling journey through the hot, dry land, abused by ravaging soldiers and plucked clean by scavengers, is a far cry from the civilized trappings and slight misunderstandings that make up so many romances. Courtship on their ragged journey consists of a meal or two in rundown hotels and boarding houses or the little courtesies they extend each other as they camp by the wayside.
All the while Creede watches stoic Laurel as she unravels from what we now call PTSD. Creede admires her for her tenacity, her commitment to promises given in stressful times, and her respect for others, but he’s alarmed when she tries to wash away blood only she can see or talks to her ghostly patients.
Throughout the book, Creede and Laurel struggle to find a reason to live after everything they love has died and watching death take innocent people time and again. The answer, as it is in all romances, is found in their love for each other and in their future together. It’s also found in the little bright spots along the way: A tenacious kitten that adopts them, the stubborn mule that makes them laugh, and the sunrises and sunsets that remind them they are surrounded by beauty if they only look for it. Their journey becomes a survival story that guides the couple toward hope when each of them at first sees nothing but hopelessness.
Ultimately, McKade’s novel asks readers what they live for and reminds them of all the people who work daily to care for those whose reasons may seem to be dwindling. All of this and a love story too, what more can a reader ask?