Desert Isle Keeper
It takes extraordinary authors to make extraordinary books out of ordinary people. Fortunately, Cara McKenna has what it takes.
Erin Coffey earned her LPN while nursing her dying grandmother, so Larkhaven Psychiatric Hospital is her first professional position – one she only took to be close to her disastrous sister and beloved nephew. Kelly Robak has been an orderly at Larkhaven for years. When they meet on Erin’s first day, they have immediate chemistry. Kelly tells Erin up front that he likes to be in charge in the bedroom (or living room, or wherever). Will Erin go with Kelly? If so, how will she keep from becoming like her man-dependent sister?
Erin is a great protagonist. She’s hardworking and bright, good with people but unsure of her academic and intellectual abilities (Erin’s the first person in her family to have education past high school, so even RNs are intimidating to her, let alone doctors). I enjoyed watching her find her professional feet and grow in confidence. She’s also managing boundaries with her troubled sister, who is addicted to the drama of bad relationships.
Kelly, meanwhile, is a delight. I’ve said many times that I enjoy working class stories because the authors have to sell you on the characters and their emotional value to each other, not the luxuries they are able to provide. The author gives Kelly the added barrier of a banged-up appearance most frequently described by Erin as “mean”. And yet… Kelly is extremely sexy. He’s bulky, roughed-up, and strong. He’s risen from a poverty-stricken background to be a homeowner and an essential employee at his workplace, where he’s nicknamed “the Wall” for his implacable calm. The scenes where he teaches Erin physical restraint techniques to use against rowdy patients sizzle and foreshadow the explosive sexual chemistry they have later (which is not limited to the Kelly-in-control sex Kelly told Eirn he wanted). Ultimately, he’s supportive of Erin and her potential career ambitions, and has no difficulty with her more senior position and higher salary, which I adored.
Speaking of patients, I appreciated the treatment of mental illness in this book. The author describes the various buildings at Larkhaven, which include dementia facilities and outpatient treatment centers, and makes it clear that very few patients belong in the limited-access facility where Erin works. You get realistic fear and concern from staff who might deal with violent episodes, but also a sympathetic and human rendering of the patients who need their help. And you also get the gallows humor that’s a characteristic of every nurse I know. When a doctor suggests that Erin might try for a doctor’s white coat, Erin, who can’t afford tuition, jokes, “Only if it’s a straightjacket.”
There is political incorrectness in this book, especially from Kelly (although it’s not always clear if he’s kidding or provoking Erin), so if that doesn’t work for you, steer clear. I also felt Kelly overreacted somewhat in his big fight with Erin, but it wasn’t unrealistic that somebody might react that way.
I would recommend this book to anybody who likes normal people playing out male-dominant fantasies without the trappings of billionaire sex dungeons (“This invite was strictly B.Y.O. gimp suit,” Kelly quips), especially one where the heroine is mature and competent. I would take the shaved-headed, scarred-up competence of Kelly over slicked-hair BDSM club owners any day!