Familiar Stranger in Clear Springs
I was craving a second-chance-at-love tale, so I pulled Familiar Stranger in Clear Springs, a 2016 Harlequin Historical, out of the stack. This one is a sweet, charming Western with an HEA I was happy to see. Definitely a successful read.
Tom Barrington and Elizabeth Morley first met in La Playa, California, when Tom was stationed nearby for the army. He and Elizabeth flirted and shared an unforgettable kiss. However, just when he thought they may have hope of a future together, his unit was pulled out of La Playa with little notice. Led to believe that a wealthy rival in town ended up marrying Elizabeth, Tom convinced himself that his lifestyle, first as a soldier and now as an agent for Wells Fargo charged with foiling bank robberies, is not conducive to settling down and having a family.
Four years have passed since Tom and Elizabeth first knew each other. Tom has suffered through the loss of his partner and his own self-doubts as a result. Robbers have hit in the area around La Playa, and the bank fears the loss of its upcoming shipment. Tom requests the assignment and gets it. The author does a good job of setting the scene, convincing the reader just how important this job is to Tom as well as showing how his return to the town affects him. Tom can’t help feeling nostalgic even though he is positive that Elizabeth has settled into the life of a wealthy young matron in San Diego.
To his surprise, Tom wanders into the local mercantile and finds Elizabeth still there. Not only does she still tend the store, but she is still unmarried. One chance meeting turns Tom’s assumptions on their head – and sets the stage for what ends up being a rather sweet story.
Tom and Elizabeth don’t just pick up where they left off four years ago. That would have been too easy. Instead, we see that Tom is not the only one who has faced difficulty over the past four years. Elizabeth has been on her own minding the town mercantile, but it’s been a hard life as the town’s fortunes have declined somewhat since the army moved out of the area. In addition, Elizabeth’s overbearing brother seems to miss no opportunity to make her life miserable. He dreams of establishing himself as a wealthy businessman in San Diego, and he primarily seems interested in his sister as a means of advancing his own ambitions.
Elizabeth fell hard for Tom the first time he was in town and now that he’s back, she’s more cautious. After all, the man left town with no explanation, had no communication with her for four years, and has now returned for purposes he won’t share with her. One can hardly blame her for being wary.
If you like second-chance-at-love tales, this one is lovely. While there is definitely angst, this book doesn’t wallow in it the way some books with this plotline do. The emotional side of this story is somewhat understated, but still effective. Tom and Elizabeth were both enjoyable characters and one wants to see them succeed. And frankly, after meeting Elizabeth’s brother in the story, I wanted to see her well out of his clutches. For me, the story took a little too long to really get moving, but my quibbles with the story were relatively minor.
I found the world of the story fascinating as well. I enjoyed the historical setting, and the secondary characters in the book also caught my attention. I can think of a couple that I hope end up with books of their own. If you like Westerns or you like tales of lovers getting second chances, definitely check this one out.