Desert Isle Keeper
Deep River Promise
Sometimes I feel a bit like a damaged romance heroine when I open a book by a new-to-me author. You know the trope – she’s been hurt by love before, and is wary of trying again. But eventually the hero hits the right notes with her, so she cautiously starts to trust and eventually love him. Reading Deep River Promise was like that; I stepped into the second book of a new series, unsure of what I would find. Yet with each page, the characters hit the right notes, and I could almost feel my shoulders unclench as I began to relax and enjoy it.
Damon Fitzgerald has come to the town of Deep River, Alaska, with a hidden agenda. Everyone in Deep River knows that he inherited a share of the town, along with two other army buddies, when their friend Caleb West died. As far as the town is aware, Damon is visiting in order to weigh in on potential tourist attractions for the town to develop before he leaves Alaska permanently and moves back to LA to be with his mom. What no one knows is that Caleb left behind a fifteen-year-old son, and he asked Damon to look out for the boy in the event of his death.
Astrid James was knocked up by Caleb as a teenager, at which point he told her he wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a child and wouldn’t be involved. Hurt but determined, Astrid committed to raising their son Connor on her own. She came to Caleb once ten years later asking for help, having just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship, and he was wise enough not to flake out a second time. Caleb offered her a place to stay in Deep River, but while he regretted his youthful mistake of abandoning her and their child, he was never able to fully set things right and acknowledge his son. Connor James grew up not knowing his father, even in the five years after he and Astrid moved to Deep River, and when the book opens Astrid is feeling more than a little guilty that her son will never have the chance to know him.
Damon walks straight into this messy family drama, but amazingly, is able to navigate the waters with ease, and without alerting the town to the relationship between Caleb West and Connor James. He first approaches Astrid directly, telling her he wanted to check in and lays out clearly the fact that Caleb left Damon a letter in his will in which he asked his friend to watch out for Connor. Astrid is wary of Damon’s charming demeanor, but appreciates his honesty. She tells him that Connor doesn’t know anything about his father, and assures Damon that she can take care of her son, so he is clear to move back to LA.
Damon, however, isn’t so sure. He’s noticed Connor following him around town and has a sense the teen wants to talk to him. Although Damon is pressed to get to LA, where his mother is struggling with early-onset dementia and needs help from a familiar face, he takes the time to pull Connor aside (with Astrid’s permission). When Connor reluctantly lets slip that he knows Caleb was his dad, also via a letter mailed upon Caleb’s death, Damon decides to stay in town an extra few days in case Connor wants to talk more.
In the midst of all of this, Damon and Astrid are also setting off sparks and trying to find a way to explore those sparks without making an issue of it. Neither of them is ready for a real relationship, but yet they continue to challenge and be drawn to each other. Eventually the pair decide to have a quick fling while Damon stays in town, but even as they say that, it’s obvious something deeper is starting. Luckily, they’re smart enough to acknowledge something special is going on, even as it doesn’t change Damon’s plans to leave.
I was very impressed by Damon’s emotional intelligence. He never comes across as too-good-to-be-true; on the contrary, he has some blind spots in terms of his own mental/emotional health. But Damon’s experience as the only child of a single mom makes it easy for him to understand Connor, and the fact that he was a teen father himself before losing his child to cancer gives him insight into Astrid’s feelings as a parent. Just by calmly being himself, Damon is able to provide the peace and support both Connor and Astrid need at a difficult time. While I truly liked all of the characters, Damon’s perfect balance of flawed and insightful stole the show.
I wish there was a grade to give between B+ and A-, because that’s where Deep River Promise falls for me. There’s such great development of both the romance and the family drama plots, it was an A all the way… until it couldn’t stick the landing. Damon’s short stay in Deep River is regularly discussed; he’s only there for about a week, and in the first few days he doesn’t even speak to Astrid. The romance rings true, even on the short timeline, but when Damon moves to tie everything up and reach his happily-ever-after, it feels rushed. It’s obvious he and Astrid belong together, but I think a Happy For Now ending would have better suited the characters and the pace of the story.
Apart from that complaint, though, I don’t have any negative things to say about Deep River Promise, so I will err on the side of optimism and call this book a DIK. It’s a strong addition to the Alaska Homecoming series, and sure to be enjoyed by readers both new to and familiar with Ashenden’s work. I know I for one will be re-reading this book!