Catherine Anderson’s Baby Love features some fabulous writing – the premise which begins the book is explosive and riveting. While there is much to recommend about Anderson’s effort, it is also necessary to point out that the story devolves into a series of clichés that verge on the melodramatic.
Rafe Kendrick, one-time happily married father and multi-millionaire rancher, has been on the skids since the accidental death of his wife and children. He’s now a drunken vagabond riding the rails, fighting the sound of his wife’s voice in his head, telling him to let it go and find love once again. When he rescues Maggie Stanley and her infant son from the other railcar bums who would rape her, he sobers up quickly, and takes her into his protection. Suddenly, life seems to have meaning again, and he decides he’ll do anything to keep this beaten-up (and beaten down) woman and her baby safe.
Maggie is on the run with her son and reveals little of herself, even as she offers her body in return for baby formula and diapers. She simply cannot believe that anyone would do her a good turn and not ask for anything in return – that’s not how she’s seen life since her father died and her mother married the execrable Lonnie Boyle. Even after Rafe offers to marry her and take she and her son to safety at his Oregon ranch, Maggie refuses to place her trust in him – not even after he risks his safety to remove her young sister Heidi from Lonnie’s clutches.
With the help of his younger brother Ryan, Rafe eventually realizes he’s smothering Maggie with his love. After he gently woos and courts her, Maggie realizes he’s the real deal. But will he still love her when he finds out what she believes is the truth about herself and her past?
The basic plot for this story is well conceived, but it is in the details where problems crop up. The first is that Rafe, who has been drunk for over a year, is able to sober up immediately and without any detoxifying effects. Then there is Lonnie – the stepfather and evil incarnate. It seems to me that the predatory stepfather has replaced the evil stepmother in contemporary fiction and modern romance. Baby Love would have been more effective had Lonnie been less over-the-top and less involved than he was, especially at the end.
As far as the lead characters go, while Maggie’s relationship with Lonnie certainly gave her a reason to fear men, she was already 14 when her own father died, and he was a good man. Given that, her distrust of Rafe and his motives went on a bit too long. I did like, however, how the author turned that distrust around when Maggie began to fear Rafe would put her aside because she wasn’t the paragon his dead wife was. That, to me, seemed realistic and strongly illustrates how well author Anderson can write.
As for Rafe, he was magnificent. His brother was magnificent (I really did enjoy him and would like to see him fall in love in a sequel) and his parents were magnificent – even his housekeeper was magnificent. But when he informed the disbelieving Maggie that he would love her even if she had slept with the entire Seattle Seahawks team, his magnificence went over the top.
Reading a romance where one of the lead characters has truly loved before is a nice change of pace, although one wonders why it seems only romance heroes are allowed this luxury. And though I enjoyed Rafe sharing with Maggie the correct way to try on a bra (he learned from his wife the same method my mother taught me), his showing her how to express breast milk without a pump made Rafe’s magnificence too magnificent once again.
The last example of Rafe’s all-too-magnificent magnificence comes at the end of Baby Love, and though it showcased Maggie’s growth as a confident and intelligent woman, I wish the author could have found another way to display it – the obsessed villain’s last desperate act reads these days like the Energizer Bunny – he just keeps going. Even though I cheered Maggie on, I believe this entire last section of the book could have been removed – I would have given the book a higher grade without it.
Despite these flaws, the fact remains that Catherine Anderson certainly can tell a tale. If you can suspend disbelief over a too-perfect hero and a too-dastardly villain, Baby Love might be that two-hanky read you crave.