Desert Isle Keeper
I always think of Farrah Rochon’s books as being romances about grownups. Her heroes and heroines are together human beings who have reached a good place in their lives and are ready to share that spot with someone special. They may hit some speed bumps on the road to their HEA but they are able to (shocker!) talk through their issues and reach an acceptable compromise. The melodrama is kept to a minimum, allowing the passionate love story to shine on center stage.
April Knight has achieved almost everything she wanted to professionally. As a cellist, she has performed with some of the best orchestras in the world, has travelled extensively and has built an excellent reputation. That reputation has allowed her to retire from the concert circuit and work from home providing music— usually remotely— for movies and television. She loves being back in New Orleans, getting to spend time with family and friends and giving back to the community which she feels gave so much to her. As an integral part of A Fresh Start, a summer teen outreach program, she is providing a safe, wholesome way for teens in the Ninth Ward to spend their summer months. It’s proven successful in keeping the kids off the streets and away from trouble. But so much more needs to be done and with almost zero funding, she has no idea how they can expand their summer scheme into the year round program the area really needs.
Damien Alexander feels the only thing the Ninth Ward ever did to him was take; it took his brother’s legs and his father’s life. His mom was forced to work hard to make ends meet and died of an aneurism, falling dead on a sidewalk of the same area that had already taken so much from her family. Damien left the neighborhood behind when he went to school and then started his corporate real estate firm, Alexander Properties; but recently he’s found his thoughts turning toward it more and more. First, he gave a generous donation to his friend April’s charity, A Fresh Start and now he has acquired a piece of prime real estate in the neighborhood. His plan is for gentrification, to bring more upscale shopping and housing to the locale. But he needs financial backers and to get those he needs his good friend April. He plans to attend some highbrow charity events that attract the type of investors he’s looking for and he wants a date that can schmooze clients without looking for anything from him personally.
Damien’s request comes at just the right time; A Fresh Start is applying for a grant and having a prominent businessman teaching the kids about money management would go a long way to increasing their chances of winning that money. April plans to strong arm, er, ask him for an exchange of services – she’ll accompany him to social events, he’ll spend Saturday mornings teaching money management to teens. This is one of those contrived events that tend to only happen in romance novels, but it worked for me because everything else about the characters feel very real. Their meeting over coffee, their banter as they discuss things, their interactions with the world around them; all are related in a very genuine manner that really captures who they are as characters. And may I add the friendship portrayed between them is very realistic as well? They are adults who kept in touch after high school but there had been some drifting apart, too, as they pursued educational and professional goals. They knew each other well but there was enough time and distance between their previous close friendship and the present for me to buy them seeing each other with fresh eyes.
Back to our story. The two agree to trade favors and it looks like it will be a win-win for both of them. April is able to impress the right people at the parties; Damien’s class is a big hit with the kids. The time they spend together proves beyond easy – their friendship has gained maturity and seems ready to become something more. They make a perfectly paced move from friends to lovers, with lots of conversation and verification of what each is looking for along the way. This highlights one of the author’s greatest strengths – she really has a gift for depicting relationships which look like real people falling in love. Damien and April aren’t fighting their attraction to each other or snarking their way through their dates or believing the worst about each other; they enjoy their time together, make sure of what they are feeling and move their attraction into a sexual relationship with joy. It’s a pleasure to accompany them on their journey to their HEA.
Of course the course of true love never does run smoothly and Damien and April run into a snag when they realize they don’t exactly see eye to eye on the Ninth Ward. The author handles this superbly, neither of them are hateful and the hero especially acts outside of trope in keeping an open mind and being willing to see the other side and make things right. The resolution might be a bit perfect for real life but it is just right for a romance novel.
Which leads me to what I most love about Ms. Rochon’s novels: the way she is able to deliver a realistic yet optimistic story. April and Damien are fully fleshed-out human beings; Damien has a brother he sees regularly, co-workers he can banter with, a history he needs to come to terms with and a job and bills to pay. He is someone I could know. April is the same – she’s not some super beautiful, super rich, super ultra-mega babe but a lovely young woman with a successful career, a family who loves her, good friends and yes, bills to pay and a need to work to keep a roof over her head. This is contemporary romance done right – realistic characters with a charming, relatable love story.
Another aspect I thoroughly enjoy in this author’s work is the way she places her couple into a community. I don’t mean a cutesy small town where everybody knows everybody’s business, but work environments and neighborhoods where people live out their lives, just like most of us do. I especially liked that April was a community activist; not someone waging some kind of political battle but the kind of community activism many of us perform by giving time and money to local causes.
Relatable characters, solid writing and a charming romance made this an instant keeper for me. I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary romance novels.