Desert Isle Keeper
Bountiful by Sarina Bowen is the fourth story in her True North series. With rural Vermont as the backdrop, the series has focused on the farming community, the orchards and the country lifestyle of the Shipley family and friends. This time, the romance has moved into the small town of Tuxbury and is a crossover book of sorts with the author’s Brooklyn Bruisers hockey series. The hero, Dave Beringer, is a hockey player – but this isn’t a sports romance as the hockey is left behind for a vacation fling with some long-lasting consequences.
Dave is ready for a summer of camping and fishing and hanging out at the local bar, especially if it means getting to know the attractive waitress always ready with her quick wit and spirited attitude. When it appears that the chemistry between them is mutual, he proposes a mutually beneficial arrangement while he’s in town, to which Zara happily agrees, in part to help her get over her previous relationship. There are no illusions on either side that it will lead to anything permanent, and to ensure that, they keep talking and sharing of personal details to a minimum. In fact, it’s so minimal, that Zara doesn’t remember Dave’s last name when he’s gone. Which is kind of a problem. Because she’s pregnant.
Two summers later, Dave is back in Vermont for a relaxing outdoor summer vacation. He’s overcoming an injury that sidelined him in the previous season and is trying to figure out how much longer he’ll be able to play hockey at NHL game level. And he wouldn’t mind hooking up with Zara again because even though he’s been gone for two years, she’s never been far from his thoughts. But two years turn out to have been a really long time when Zara has a fifteen-month-old, precocious toddler in tow – who looks a lot like him. Dave’s upbringing was less than ideal, and it’s given him a pretty negative view of marriage and family. In fact, having kids has always been something he’d planned to avoid. But he’s not going to shirk his parental obligations and he’s willing to go along with whatever works best for Zara. It’s a summer of new experiences for them both. Will it also be the start of a lifetime together?
This story is tied with Bittersweet (book one of True North) as my favorite of the series. Zara is such an empathetic character and she takes the life-changing experience of pregnancy and being a single mom in the best possible way. She’s a devoted mother and it shows, plus we see all the ups and downs of having a toddler that age. I definitely think that readers who have had children themselves will feel a deeper connection to Zara for how she interacts with Nicole, including several scenes involving breastfeeding and the connection that makes between mom and child. I also really like how her family steps up and supports her, her brothers and mom chipping in when Zara needs a babysitter or a break. But she hasn’t lost her sense of self or her wariness when it comes to Dave. She’s willing to indulge in a little more fantasy time with him, but isn’t going to risk her heart (or Nicole’s) for a few weeks spent together. She needs Dave to decide how involved he wants to be in Nicole’s life because she is not going to let her little girl be hurt by an absent father.
All of this is a lot for Dave to take in. From intending to never marry or have children, he’s got a ready-made family – if he’s willing to open up his own heart. It makes for a lot of serious decision making, about not just his love life but his career, too. It is equally delightful to see him warm up to the idea of being a father and watch him develop a relationship with Nicole. While there are steamy sex scenes at the beginning when Dave and Zara are having their initial fling, it’s different when they come together later in the story as it has a lot more emotional weight attached to it. Though neither Dave nor Zara could have predicted the ending they’d get, there is joy and happiness all around when they make those final steps together. All in all, Bountiful is a delightful story about love and family and what’s really important in life.