Like many of you, I suspect, I cut my teeth on the old “Harlequin Presents” romances, where nothing more passionate took place between the hero and heroine than a few steamy kisses. Which was just as well, since if Sister Ruth had caught us with what we were reading instead of Latin textbooks, we’d’ve been in some very hot water. It’s been a long time since I picked up a book like that, and I’ve got to say that some of today’s romances really go over the top when it comes to depictions of physical intimacy between the characters. Autumn’s Eve represented a refreshing change of pace for me.
Eve Barron took her divorce settlement and ran as far from Toronto as she could, ending up in secluded Jake’s Corner, Manitoba, where she runs the Last Chance Gas and Grill. It was her misguided enthusiasm that convinced the local residents to stake all their savings in the construction of a wilderness vacation lodge, but now they’ve run out of money. Rumor has it that Frank Loewen, the man who’s holding their promissory notes, is getting ready to sell out to a big-city investment firm. When handsome, charming Dane Newson of Newson Enterprises pulls into the Gas and Grill, Eve realizes right away who he is and what a threat he represents to the community’s future. He can’t be allowed to leave town and meet with Frank.
The other residents know this, too, and when Dane has a car accident on his way out of town, they take the opportunity to bring him back and do everything they can to keep him in their sight. There’s nowhere for him to stay but in one of the spare rooms above the Gas and Grill, which brings him in close contact with Eve. Bouncing back from a long-term relationship that was going nowhere, Dane is not averse to a little flirtation with Eve, but he soon recognizes that he wants more than just to trifle with her. The problem is that she’s obviously reluctant to let him get too close to her, and he has the sneaking suspicion that she’s involved in the plot to keep him stranded. Something’s very fishy about everybody in Jake’s Corner – how is Dane going to get to the bottom of it all, and how is he going to get Eve to trust him?
This book came close to charming my socks off. If it were a movie, it would be a ’30’s screwball comedy directed by Preston Sturgis and starring Carole Lombard and Joel McCrea. The premise is just offbeat enough to catch my attention, and the denizens of Jake’s Corner are quirky and endearing. There’s the eponymous Jake, a real crust of an old fellow, who speaks in monosyllables and drives a homemade all-terrain vehicle named Sweet Pea. Gilbert and Stanley are the two local mechanics who refuse to fix Dane’s car on a Sunday, because that would be work; but they agree to bring it into town, as long as he doesn’t pay them for it. And because of Jake’s misunderstanding, everybody calls Dane “Dang” or “Dan.” Dane goes along with this zaniness, in part because he’s truly curious about what’s behind it all, but mostly because he wants to spend the time with Eve.
The depiction of a community on the edge of nowhere is spot-on; the dialogue is natural and funny; and the situation is just the right side of preposterous. There’s enough tension between Eve and Dane to sustain the reader’s interest, although I must admit that my tastes have changed somewhat since those long-ago days in Latin class; I kept wishing a little more would happen than the kisses they exchanged. All in all, though, Autumn’s Eve was a refreshing change for me; with an absolutely straight face I can say that this is a sweet but not cloying read, a nice change of pace, a quick, amusing read. I look forward to more work from Jordanna Boston and Ponder Publishing.