Desert Isle Keeper
The latest Susan Elizabeth Phillips release, Just Imagine is a revision of her first solo effort, originally titled Risen Glory. And for anyone who is wondering whether Ms. Phillips is as adept at writing historicals as she is at her many contemporary successes, this book answers – with a resounding yes.
Katherine Louise Weston is an orphaned Southerner in the post-Civil War era, looking for the man who inherited her family plantation, Risen Glory. He happens to be a hated Yankee war hero by the name of Major Baron Cain. Katherine, or Kit, as she’s known, is no Southern Belle, but rather a tomboy who passes for male so easily that she finds herself working for her quarry in short order – as his stable boy. She’s come to New York with one goal: to kill the handsome Major, and take back Risen Glory on her own.
Cain is growing restless and bored with New York. A professional gambler since he left the army, he runs from any attachments, gives away books and sells off horses before they become too dear. It’s more than a bit clichéd, but in the end, it works. When his long-lost mother leaves him the plantation she inherited from her last husband – Kit’s father – he also finds himself burdened with a stepsister, at least until her 23rd birthday, five years hence. At that time, she will inherit her trust fund from a deceased aunt, unless of course she has married already, in which case she will receive this fund on the wedding day. A burden he thinks, and no less so when he finds out his new burden has been mucking out his stable for three dollars and two bits a week. Against her will, he ships her off to finishing school, and three years later finds himself once again burdened with her company. Only now he can’t take his eyes off her. And this time, he can’t run.
Both the hero and heroine are likable, if hard-headed, and it’s easy to feel for them both – except, perhaps, when they are out to exact revenge, which is often enough. Even so, they are trademark Phillips characters, regardless of their setting, and that makes them difficult to dislike. Each has the requisite bad childhood – she was all but forgotten by her weak father, who quickly married a woman who couldn’t stand Kit, and made no secret her dislike. Cain, on the other hand, was the victim of the same woman’s dislike and the havoc wrought by her – only it cut perhaps a little deeper, because she was his mother.
The hero and heroine are perfect for each other, but neither will admit it, he because of his fear of attachments, she because she is afraid, similarly, to love anything but the land that sustained her when her own flesh and blood wouldn’t. Nevertheless, no one but Cain would not only allow her to run wild but encourage and even love her for it. And none but Kit would have the courage to chase him down and make him stop running.
The secondary characters are equally memorable and full. Ex-slaves Sophronia and Magnus are as perfect for each other as Kit and Cain, but she refuses to see it. And the divine Veronica Gamble, who at first seems destined to be a predictable and dull villainess, turns out instead to be a sophisticated and intelligent complement to Kit’s own not-so-sophisticated intellect.
On another level, this is a book that examines freedoms and what men – and women – will do to keep them. It’s a terrific love story, and something more. And it’s a Desert Isle Keeper, without a doubt.