Desert Isle Keeper
The Horsemaster's Daughter
Earlier this year I read and really liked The Charm School, and looked forward to its sequel. It’s my pleasure to report that I was not disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either. From start to finish, this story of a deeply wounded man and the woman who rescues his soul will pull you in and keep your attention focused.
Hunter Calhoun has reached the end of the road. His once-fine Virginia plantation is falling down around his ears, he’s broke, his wife is dead, and his two children are deeply troubled. When the last chance for his salvation, a Thoroughbred stallion that will restore his fortune, arrives from Ireland in a maddened state, Hunter has no choice but to destroy the horse, knowing he’s destroying his dream too. But he hears the story of a man, Henry Flyte, reputed to have a magic touch with horses, and in a desperate move, Hunter sets off to find the horsemaster.
It’s a cruel twist of fate (and just his luck, he thinks) when he arrives at Flyte Island to learn that the horsemaster is dead, and Hunter reluctantly pulls out the shotgun he’s brought with him. Flyte’s daughter Eliza, however, refuses to allow him to kill the beast and talks him into letting her try her hand at training it. She proves to have the same skills as her legendary father, for which Hunter is profoundly grateful. What thrills him less, though, is Eliza’s uncanny ability to reach into him and find the things that are driving him mad, to salve his hurt and pain. He doesn’t want it, yet he can’t help but respond to her healing touch on his heart.
Eliza has lived almost all her life in isolation, surrounded by a menagerie of animals and the ponies that run wild on the island. Up till now, she’s been content with this life, but Hunter’s arrival and the longings he stirs in her make her wish – almost – that things could be different. She resists Hunter’s pleas and demands that she return with him to the mainland, to see to the continued training of the Thoroughbred. After a gang of slave-catchers invades her island, Hunter takes matters into his own hands and drags her off to Albion, his farm. It’s there that Eliza will work her real magic: saving his investment, healing him and his family, giving him back his future. But at what cost to them both?
Talk about a nonstop read! There were so many twists and turns in this story that I couldn’t put the book down for wanting to discover how everything would come out. The characters drew me right in from the first page. Hunter is an anguished man, tortured by what might have been and teased by what could still be, and ready to crawl into the first bottle that presents itself. Yet he has an innate decency and a sardonic sense of humor that serve to balance his darker side very effectively, so the reader never quite gives up hoping for him. Eliza is a true innocent, guileless as she faces a world she knows nothing about. There’s a tough side to her, though, and she refuses to quit when she’s set a goal, whether it’s taming a hurt animal, showing love to Hunter’s children, or reaching out to their father.
Many of the secondary characters are just as well done, especially Hunter’s son Blue, a boy with a heavy burden and a terrible secret. Ryan and Isadora Calhoun, from The Charm School, make cameo appearances, and Hunter and Ryan’s cousin Charles seems set for his own story. The settings are very well done, so that you can almost smell the salt water in the air of the island and practically see the tall, blowing grass and peeling paint at Albion. The historical context in which the action takes place adds important elements to the plot, but it never overwhelms the primacy of the love story. A clean writing style and an ear for believable dialogue add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.
Readers who liked The Charm School will not want to miss The Horsemaster’s Daughter, but even if you didn’t read the first book, the second one has enough to recommend it on its own merits. Don’t pass up the opportunity to make the acquaintance of the horsemaster’s daughter and the man she loves. You’ll love them both. I did.