Desert Isle Keeper
A Prior Engagement
Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” That statement perfectly describes how I feel towards DIK reads. They are such a pleasure to experience and so difficult to put down. Nothing quite beats that special feeling of finding a truly special book.
When SAS soldier Lee Davis proposed to Juliet Brown after just six weeks of courtship, it was because he knew he had found the one. He was livid when Juliet was not anxious to jump into an engagement. Instead she wanted to give the relationship time to make sure the passion wouldn’t burn out and leave them with nothing but the ashes of their love. Lee’s response to her rejection is to storm out the door, ring in his pocket, and not call in the weeks before his deployment. Shortly after he is deployed, he is pronounced dead after an attack. Juliet mourns him with the same passion with which she had loved him.
Two years later, after her very first sexual encounter since she and Lee split, she learns he is still alive. Juliet’s world is sent into a tail spin. She had accepted from his friends the ring she had refused from him. She is now enmeshed with his family. Everyone has treated her more as a grieving widow than an ex-girlfriend. She never told them she had rejected Lee’s proposal because it would have made everyone more upset to know he had died heartbroken rather than happily engaged. The fact is, she genuinely mourned Lee for two long years. Yet now that she is about to confront a living almost-fiancé she is nervous and conscience stricken. Did she handle the situation the best way for everyone? Or just the best way for herself?
Returning from the dead is never easy. Lee has spent two long years as a Taliban prisoner, rescued only when the Americans received an anonymous tip regarding his location. He had more than enough time to reexamine his life and realized that perhaps expecting a girl to say yes after just six weeks was a bit much. Yet he is less than thrilled when he learns that the woman who crushed his dreams with her rejection is now posing as his grieving almost-wife. Feigning amnesia he goes along with her act for his own purposes. He is convinced that she played the grieving loved one only to cash in on his demise. Determined to see her squirm for what he sees as a betrayal, he refuses to accept the ring back when they meet at the airport. Instead, he proposes again in front of all the cameras that meet his return home. This leaves Juliet little choice but to accept or look like a callous witch spurning the affection of a war hero. Lee figures this puts her right where he wants her; beside him where he can guilt her into revealing to friends and family just how little she truly cares.
The engagement gives Lee more than just an opportunity to watch Juliet finagle her way out of a tough situation. It gives him a place to stay as he tries to rebuild himself into the man he once was. Two years of being a prisoner in hostile conditions have left him thin, sickly, and mentally damaged. He needs a place where he can recover in relative peace. His family and friends have made it very clear, very quickly that they plan to hover. Since his own estate was liquidated shortly after his death, her home seems like the choice which offers at least a modicum of liberty. He knows practical, hardworking Juliet will provide him with care that doesn’t smother and will continue to work, giving him time alone that he desperately needs.
A scene that shows exactly where Lee is at in terms of returning home occurs on his and Juliet’s drive from the airport. Both are still feeling out what the other remembers. Lee has already been sick once as his body adjusts to the many meds he needs to take to deal with lingering infections, malnutrition and bruising. But when the rain comes Lee stands out in the middle of it. The luxury of the cool moisture combined with the freedom to be outside is a near religious experience for him. I really appreciated that for the majority of the book, this is how we learn about Lee’s captivity: not in horrific tales of what he suffered but through watching what he enjoys now that he is free. This is spot-on for what strikes the perfect note in a romance and I award major kudos to the author for finding that balance and sticking to it.
The pacing in this novel is excellent as well. We start with the tension of the Big Secret. While the reader knows that Lee remembers Juliet’s rejection and is stringing her along, no one else does. We also know how honorable Juliet has been and how sincere her feelings are. We know how tense she is, waiting for Lee’s memory to come back and wondering just how much jogging of his memory she should do. The author plays this out well, utilizing their preconceptions and spinning them into corrected knowledge at just the right intervals. I was on pins and needles – in the best way – waiting for it to play out.
The author balances a lot of different situations throughout the novel and does a nearly perfect job with it. We have Lee’s PTSD, his denial of the PTSD, and his general issues of adapting to the luxuries of home after the hell he has been through. While Lee’s life was put on a hellacious hold, everyone else moved on. He is hit hard by the fact that he missed his father by six months. They had always had a close relationship and having to mourn him alone while everyone else seems to have adjusted is difficult for him. Another problem is the fact that his friend Steve’s widow is now marrying another member of their unit, Nate. Steve died in the attack which saw Lee captured and Lee is having trouble watching the couple move on with their lives. All of his things have been sold or given away and he now owns literally nothing. He is frustrated that he has to purchase clothes at smaller sizes than he used to wear. He can’t stand to be hugged and feels overwhelmed when he spends more than twenty minutes in anyone’s company. Normally all that Lee was dealing with would make me skeptical of the HEA, but the author does such a beautiful job of weaving the love story into his healing that I had no doubts at all.
Juliet shows amazing maturity in how she handles Lee’s issues as well as dealing with her own emotions. She had just healed from losing Lee and is now dealing with the possibility of opening her heart to him once more just to have it ripped out when his memory returns. She had begun a new relationship literally weeks before Lee came back and is now has to end that. Additionally, she had used an inheritance from Lee’s dad to purchase a partnership in her law firm. Now she feels obligated to refund that money to Lee and is scrambling to figure out how. Yet under all this pressure she remains gracious to all and a fantastic caregiver to Lee.
The silly “revenge” plot could easily have ruined the love story but it didn’t. Both characters had others at heart when they behaved the way they did, making their actions reasonable rather than silly. These two characters also fit each other so well it makes their romance an absolute pleasure to read. Watching them interact, slowly relax and start to figure each other out is a huge joy. I loved seeing their passion reignite and become an enduring flame.
This book is a fantastic example of what an excellent writer can do in a short space. The emotional wallop of this small, precious love story is greater than that of many longer novels I have read. You don’t want to miss this one.