Baby Love is intense and I mean intense. I wavered between biting my nails and reaching for hankies until I reached the end when I closed the book and went to lie down for a rest. I did say this was an intense book!
Two years ago – Rafe Kendrick had it all. He and his brother owned a large and profitable ranch and he was married to Susan – his high school sweetheart whom he dearly loved. They had two children and he was a perfectly happy man. Then Susan and the children were killed in an accident for which Rafe blamed himself and he went to pieces. Rafe left the ranch and his worried family, crawled inside a bottle and has spent the last two years riding the rails and drinking.
One day a young woman and her newborn son come into Rafe’s boxcar. He is not too drunk to realize that she and her infant are in danger from the other men riding with them. Rafe tosses them out and rescues the young woman. The woman is Maggie Stanley and her baby is Jaimie. Maggie has been badly beaten, bruised and cut by someone who is an obvious sadist. The plight of Maggie and her infant touch Rafe as he has not been touched since his own family was killed. Rafe takes Maggie to a motel and tries to take care of her, but her injuries are very severe and he is forced to take her to a hospital.
Maggie’s abuser is one of the most loathsome human beings I have ever encountered in a romance novel – her step-father Lonnie. Maggie’s mother was slightly brain damaged from a lack of oxygen suffered during a heart attack and poor Maggie has been trying not to upset her mother, take care of her younger sister and try to keep her out of Lonnie’s hands in any way she can. You can probably guess what Maggie has had to do and who baby Jamie’s father is. Maggie, like a lot of Catherine Anderson’s heroines, has been pushed into a corner from which there looks to be no escape.
Enter Rafe. Maggie and her plight are his salvation. He rescues her and falls in love with she and her baby. Then he takes her to the ranch and marries her to protect her. Meanwhile, Maggie is struggling with her growing feelings of love for Rafe, her still deeply ingrained distrust, and her fear of Lonnie.
Baby Love is a good mix of action and emotion and both are, like I said, very intense. Anderson did a wonderful job answering all the questions I had during the course of reading the book. Just when I would say, “Wait a minute, why isn’t he… or “Hey, why didn’t she…”, Anderson would answer it a couple of chapters later. Rafe is on my list of favorite male characters for 1999. Once he commits himself to assuring Maggie’s safety, he is totally committed to her and Jamie and does not look back. Also when Rafe realizes that he truly loves Maggie and her son (whom he immediately considers his) and that it’s time to finally quit blaming himself for the death of his family he does it and does not spend pages and pages angsting around. Bravo for that!
Maggie is also a likable character and one whom I enjoyed seeing mature from a beaten shadow to a woman with self-confidence and bravery. She did spend a little too much time distrusting Rafe and thinking he had physical designs on her, but given her past history – her attitude was understandable.
I did have one glaring problem with the book. When Maggie comes to the ranch, Rafe and his brother ask her to take over the bookkeeping. Maggie who is a self-taught accountant, quickly finds them ways to save thousands of dollars and tells them to incorporate. Now, a multi-million dollar operation like this ranch which supports several families, has many employees and can afford two planes, would have incorporated long ago. This particular episode seemed to be a “lets-make-Maggie-feel-good-about-herself” story point rather than a logical one.
But that aside, I very much enjoyed Baby Love. As a matter of fact it is high on my list of favorite non-comedy contemporary romances this year. A tortured heroine, a hero to adore, a villain to despise and a get-out-the handkerchiefs ending – this book is intense and an intensely good one too.