Desert Isle Keeper
In Grounded Hearts the storyline is simple – an RAF pilot bails out of his damaged bomber, sustains injuries and seeks help from a lovely woman in enemy territory. The storytelling, however, is anything but simple. Here, I found romance, adventure, spiritual wisdom, humor, pathos, and a picture of World War II I never knew, all woven from skillful description and dialogue that was a true pleasure to read.
Dutch Whitney is an RAF pilot from Canada who finds himself lying in a cold bog, injured and desperate to determine if he’s landed in British-friendly Northern Ireland or in the neutral south where arrest and imprisonment until the end of the war await. Nan O’Neil answers a late-night knock at her door to find a stranger with compelling blue eyes, a terrible Irish accent, and an inability to stay upright outside. If she’s not very careful, aiding this man will land Nan in prison, but her nurse-midwife instincts have already kicked in. Although Dutch insists he needs nothing more than a meal and directions north, Nan helps him into her cottage, all the while knowing it will be several days before he can move on.
There are many complications involved with Dutch staying even for a few days in Southern Ireland. The Local Defense Force (LDF – which has the authority to cart Nan to prison and Dutch off to internment) officer in Ballyhaven often appears unannounced at Nan’s cottage, convinced that his presence will persuade her to marry him. Ballyhaven is a small village where everyone knows each other’s habits, history and families; keeping secrets is nearly impossible. Nan’s husband Teddy has been dead for three years, so it would be difficult to explain any man’s presence without the threat of scandal. Even partially healed, Dutch’s injuries will make travel on foot difficult, and only with wheeled transportation does the escape north have a prayer of success. Nan suggests that perhaps her old Model A Ford can be fixed, and Dutch takes it upon himself to begin the repairs.
As the village’s nurse-midwife, Nan travels through the community freely and gathers supplies as well as information about the hunt for the missing pilot and the status of the rest of his crew. As Nan makes her plans for Dutch’s escape and tends to her patients, we meet many village residents and learn about the dreams, sorrows, and joys of these people in such a way that we come to know them.
In one scene, when the priest is unexpectedly on his way to Nan’s house, she and her friend Tuda work as a well-oiled team to get Dutch hidden in an IRA hidey-hole, move signs of his presence out of the living room, and settle down to act natural – “Like I hide a flyboy in my closet every day.” Quick directions punctuate the humor and affection passed between the women, reflecting the long-standing love and support built from years of friendship. Scenes like this bring the story to life.
The secrets of the village lie just under life’s surface. Even Nan carries a secret. Although her husband’s death was ruled accidental by the Garda, she knows it was not and has kept silent. That secret and her marriage, disturbed by Teddy’s dramatic temperament and dark depressions, haunt her sleep and interrupt her days. Her growing attraction to Dutch wrestles with her guilt and her lack of self-confidence in her attractiveness, while Dutch slowly becomes convinced that Nan is one-of-a-kind, the girl for him, but the timing is all wrong, and it may be years before he can express his love and ask for Nan’s hand.
Southern Ireland is a Roman Catholic country, and Ms. Dickson effortlessly shows how the religion permeates everyday life. Sunday Mass, the constant presence of the priest, rosary beads, and familiar prayer sayings like “saints protect us” and “God love her” are all presented naturally. Nan does not call upon faith; faith is in her bones. Dutch comes from a Protestant background and is not completely familiar with Roman Catholic rituals, but he and Nan find common ground in the Christian principles of service, compassion and working for peace. Again, the introduction of spiritual topics is completely natural and flows with the characters’ interactions and dialogue.
Although we see Nan and Dutch do no more than embrace and kiss, it’s apparent that the residents of Ballyhaven consider sex a natural benefit of living, and they often tease Nan and each other with light, slightly naughty humor. Conversations turn to Nan’s single status, and comments about her need of a “good man” are accompanied by sensual innuendo delivered with an affectionate, teasing expression. This type of teasing is not often found in inspirational romance, and the subtle rating is a hint of more sexual-leaning language than a reader might expect in the genre.
The plans for escape and the inherent dangers of disregarding the law of the land set the stage for a love story both sweet and deep as Nan tries to move on from her past, and Dutch provides an example of steadfast love on which she can rely. Grounded Hearts is a jewel, inspirational romance at its best. Pick up a copy and be prepared for a wonderful experience.