Desert Isle Keeper
Do Not Disturb
My pleasure in reading a wonderful book is surpassed only by the excitement of discovering a new-to-me author; it’s not just the anticipation of great books to enjoy in the future but also the idea of an immediately available backlist. Having just finished Christie Ridgway’s Do Not Disturb, I’m now torn between heading off to the bookstore for another of her titles or simply flipping to the front of this one to savor it all over again.
Angel Buchanan is my favorite kind of heroine, a smart-talking, savvy survivor who has learned well how to take care of herself, though she can’t quite squelch that hidden vulnerability that keeps her striving to find her place in the world. A reporter for the San Francisco-based West Coast magazine, she just learned of the death of Stephen Whitney, dubbed “Artist of the Heart” for his Rockwell-style paintings that celebrate home and family. She knows well the fallacy of that image: Stephen Whitney had abandoned her mother and her when she was only four years old, leaving them behind without an apparent second thought in order to pursue his artistic vision. Without explaining her personal relationship to the famous painter, Angel easily convinces her editor to give the go-ahead for an in-depth story on him.
Because of her editor’s connections, Angel is able to attend the public memorial service as well as the private one which follows in Big Sur, California. The first family member she meets is Cooper Jones, brother to the young, grieving widow (and her equally grieving twin sister) and uncle to Stephen Whitney’s stoic-faced teenaged daughter. Cooper’s protectiveness toward his family and suspicious attitude toward Angel add to her challenge, which is further compounded by Angel’s uncharacteristic lusty attraction toward him; it’s especially inconvenient that her baby face and curly blonde hair aren’t rendering him “unsuspecting,” which is the usual (and desired) male response. But her determination to get the full story about her father leads her to set up at Tranquility House, the secluded retreat owned by the Jones siblings. That means relinquishing all of her electric- and battery-powered “tools of the trade” (including her precious hair dryer, which leads to more than one hilarious scene), and observing the “No Talking” rule in communal areas. But those privations are downright easy to endure compared to the lack of available caffeine and the prevalence of bean sprouts and tofu on the strictly vegetarian menu.
Till a year ago, Cooper had been a high-powered defense attorney in San Francisco, and he quickly discerns the brain, and the spine of steel, beneath Angel’s “Tinkerbell” exterior. For very good reasons which I won’t divulge here, he abandoned the stresses and vices of his former life to run Tranquility House, and realizes that Angel’s presence there threatens his self-imposed celibacy. He’s intrigued by her self-sufficiency, candor, and ability to make him and his family laugh. At the same time, he senses the wariness behind her charm, a private misery within her that tugs at all that is protective within him. Both of them recognize the danger of the mutual attraction, knowing it may lead to a place neither is prepared to go, but find themselves going there anyway.
Angel struggles to align her conscience with her mission after getting to know her father’s widow, Lainey, and his other daughter, Katie. She begins to realize that whatever resolution she might gain by revealing the truth will be at their expense. She senses a fear in Lainey’s twin, Beth, who refuses to be interviewed (there’s a nice secondary romance between Beth and the resident guru). But the emotional struggle Angel endures as she relives her father’s abandonment and fights to stay strong enough not to ever need anyone is the most poignant aspect of the story. There were painful consequences to her father’s actions beyond the obvious ones, and though they’re not belabored, Angel’s statement that “a person is tempered in fire” is clearly not an idle one. Still, what Angel comes to understand about her father neither completely demonizes nor glorifies, and though I don’t know that we ever really comprehend his motivations, the insights gained do put some of Angel’s ghosts to rest.
If I had to characterize Do Not Disturb, I’d say that it’s mostly sexy and sassy fun. Angel isn’t the only one who’s glossing over fears and stewing over regrets, but the retrospective elements never override the primary story, which is the way Cooper and Angel mesh so perfectly. While she’s trying to maintain an emotional distance from Cooper, he’s compelled to understand why she keeps running away when he gets too close. Cooper is ultra sexy, smart, and an absolute teddy bear with those he cares about. And even though he has his own reasons for keeping that distance, Angel’s elusiveness prods him to keep drawing her closer, in an effort to reach that place in her she shuts off from everyone else.
There’s much to amuse here, like the way Angel uses the female gender’s almost universal hair complaints or her trusty Interview 101 rules to break the ice when she wants people to open up to her: “Step 1: Exchange pleasantries. Step 2: Casual conversation. Step 3: Sincere compliment.” I laughed at Angel’s shameless weakness for caffeine, the appraising way she eyes a frog skipping across a stream after her steady diet of tofu and greens (“Like chicken, Angel remembered, assessing the plump little creature.”), and her irreverent and self-deprecating sense of humor. When Cooper is trying to distract her by leading her into a dance to what he designates as “our song,” she asks incredulously, “‘Hakuna Matata’ from The Lion King? Our song is a duet by a rodent and a pig. That’s perfect, just perfect.” But mostly I loved the way Angel kept pushing forward, risking the exposure of her own aching vulnerability when it might ease another’s pain, and finding love and acceptance in return.
The blurb on the back of Do Not Disturb gets some of the details wrong (big surprise), but it’s dead-on accurate about this book being “delightfully warm and witty.” If you need some laughs, a few tears and lots of steamy romance, this book is definitely for you.