Desert Isle Keeper
I first read Dream Fever in 1991 when I purchased the book from a little gift shop in a hotel by the San Francisco airport. I’m embarrassed to say the only reason I bought it was because it was signed by the author. I devoured it in hours – laughing, crying, desperate for the happy ending – and in the process became a wholehearted Katherine Sutcliffe fan almost overnight.
Nicholas Sabre is the second son of the Earl of Chesterfield. Since a young age he’s led a life of debauchery, due in part to the loose morals of his parents – namely his mother who left her family for a life in India with her current lover. At the age of twenty-one he shoots and kills a former friend in a duel over the honor of a woman Nicholas wants to marry and believes he can trust. But she had used him and instead Nicholas finds himself banished to the new frontier of New Zealand, his heart hardened by betrayal and inner rage. Five years later Nicholas is a lonely, bitter sheep farmer. In a night of drunken stupor, unaware of what he is doing, he signs a proxy marriage contract to an unknown English bride, one of many who will be brought to the new land the following year.
Summer O’Neile is the beautiful daughter of an Irish courtesan and an unknown father. Upon discovery that her mother killed herself after being dismissed by her current lover, Lord Pimbersham, Summer seeks revenge. She gains employment in his home, becoming friends with her mother’s former maid, Sophie Fairburn. In a heated argument turned deadly, Summer thinks she’s murdered Pimbersham – an aristocrat. Sophie is also injured in the exchange, and believing she is near death, insists that Summer take the woman’s proxy marriage contract and leave for New Zealand to escape prison, posing as Summer Fairburn, Nicholas Sabre’s bride.
Dream Fever is a classic mail-order bride romance with a twist. The chemistry between Nicholas and Summer is palpable and immediate, and continues through the entire book. Both are headstrong and likeable characters, and the dialogue between them is a pleasure to read.
“The last thing I need or want is a wife.”
“Then y’ shouldn’t have signed that proxy.”
She stuck the paper up between them. “Y’ did.”
“What the hell do I need or want with a wife?” he demanded furiously.
Her small mouth curled up on one end. “If I have t’ explain that, Mr. Sabre, y’ve definitely been too long without a woman.”
“Get off my porch.”
In any other book I would have found this conversation irritating. In this book I laughed. Nicholas is an alpha hero and yet I liked him because Ms. Sutcliffe did such a superb job of giving him depth. Likewise Summer is smart-mouthed but never a shrew – a rarity in romance. I enjoyed their bantering.
This novel’s strengths are its interesting and well-drawn secondary characters, its unique setting and sub-plot, and especially the building sexual tension between Nick and Summer that culminates with emotionally and physically intense lovemaking. She falls for him and he resists the passion, afraid of losing his heart, and then nearly losing her. If there is a weakness in Dream Fever it’s that Summer and Nicholas don’t actually meet until page 53, but be assured, the wait is worth every page.
Reading Dream Fever again this week, for a second time, was pure joy. I’d forgotten just how good it is, touching every emotion and making me sigh. It’s one of very few keepers on my shelf, yellowed pages and all, and I think I’ll carry this autographed classic around with me for years.