I was excited to see Virginia Kantra’s latest Dare Island romance on the review list. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous entries and was intrigued by this heroine in the earlier books. While not perfect, I found the hero and heroine strong, interesting characters, and enjoyed this entry as well.
The only place Gabe Murphy ever felt he belonged was the Marines. Since he left the service things have gone very bad, including a brief and wrongful prison stay. Hoping for a new start, Gabe’s hitchhiked across the country to get to Dare Island and one of his only friends, Luke Fletcher (the hero of Carolina Man). Virtually penniless, Gabe desperately needs a job.
While walking across the bridge to Dare Island things go bad once again, as Gabe is harassed by a local cop. The cop eventually takes him to his friend Luke – now a member of the police force – but issues one last warning to “stay away from Jane,” which is completely bizarre as Gabe has no idea who Jane is.
It turns out “Jane” is Jane Clark, the owner of Jane’s Sweet Tea House, a bakery in town and also the cop’s daughter. Jane has a lot on her mind right now. She’s worried about competition from another coffee shop, and has decided to have extensive renovations done to her bakery, despite her continuing financial struggles. She’s also worried about her ex-husband who will soon be released from prison. Earlier in the series Jane, the single mother of a seven-year-old boy, was blackmailed by her ex-husband who then vandalized her bakery.
When Jane first sees Gabe she thinks he’s her ex-husband. Jane’s always been attracted to dangerous men of a specific appearance and Gabe fits the description. She hoped she’d learned from her experiences with her ex-, but the yearnings for Gabe begin quickly and persist. And I’ll admit I questioned just how desirable Gabe might smell and look after hitchhiking across country and then initially sleeping in the woods on Dare Island. But Jane definitely feels the attraction. And when Gabe lands a job with the construction company Jane hired, the two are thrown into regular contact.
While I definitely want my hero and heroine to feel sexual attraction, I found Jane and Gabe’s internal yearnings for each other tiring at times in the early going. But their strong, fully developed characters held my attention. Both have lingering childhood issues. Gabe’s father was abusive and his mother ignored the abuse. Jane’s mother abandoned her at a young age to her uncommunicative father. Despite this, both Gabe and Jane are so much more than their issues. Neither wallows in their past, but each tries to make a better future.
Ms. Kantra adds a wealth of context to her characters. Jane’s a nurturer; feeding people makes her feel good. She gives extra treats to the seniors and those in need who come to her bakery. And she feeds Gabe, oh does she feed Gabe. The meal she made for Gabe when she finally decides to seduce him had me salivating. There were interesting touches to Gabe as well, from his essential kindness, to his adoption of a mangy stray dog, to discovering he loves a series of romance novels featuring Navy SEALs.
I wasn’t thrilled at the first scene told from Jane’s father Hank’s point of view; I disliked him intensely in a previous book. While clearly still prejudiced in many ways, we learn more about his feelings for Jane and her son. And the secondary romance that springs up between Hank and the police department administrative assistant, Marta, was both unexpected and delightful.
But ultimately the story revolves around Jane and Gabe, and while I felt the internal dialogue was at times excessive, they’re memorable characters who have stuck with me since I finished reading this novel several weeks ago. I’ve read all of the previous entries, and while numerous characters appear here, I think this would work as a standalone, as the real focus is on Jane, Gabe, and Jane’s immediate family. While not perfect, I found it an enjoyable read and hope there’s another Dare Island book forthcoming.