Ready and Willing
Elizabeth Bevarly’s Ready and Willing is another one of her books set in Louisville around the time of the Kentucky Derby. This time, our heroine is a designer hat maker, one of those cool jobs that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen outside of romance novels.
Audrey Magill is surprised when she stumbles upon a portrait of riverboat captain Silas Summerfield, the former owner of the house she just bought. She’s shocked when she realizes that she brought home Silas himself along with the portrait – or at least the ghost of Captain Summerfield, deceased for some 70-odd years. You see, Silas’s great-great-whatever-grandson is in danger of losing his soul permanently for associating himself with a criminal, and Silas wants Audrey to go inform him of this fact. The ghost does a pretty good job of convincing her that she’s not hallucinating, so Audrey looks up one Nathaniel Summerfield and pays a visit to his law offices. Nathaniel is, understandably, skeptical, and sends Audrey packing. He has second thoughts, though, when he gets a strange feeling in his chest upon signing the contract in question, and his body instantly becomes cold – a cold so inescapable, Audrey’s touch is the only thing that brings him warmth.
So Nathaniel comes to believe that maybe Audrey is on to something. He and Audrey begin investigating the man Nathaniel is doing business with – a contractor with a solid reputation, clean background, and no hint of scandal. They keep looking, with some guidance from Silas. However, none of this paranormal-ghost-soul stuff is what really stands in the way of the mutual attraction between Audrey and Nathaniel; it’s Audrey, and her commitment to her husband who died three years prior. Nathaniel doesn’t just have to fight to regain his soul – he also has to fight to win Audrey over, and finally help her move on.
This story has elements of suspense, and a fair dose of paranormal, but at its heart, it’s a straight-up contemporary despite the publisher’s official classification. And that’s perfectly okay, as long as you aren’t expecting a paranormal or suspense-heavy plot. The book really focuses on Audrey’s inability to move on from her husband, which I thought was treated with honesty and grace, without being too heavy. Bevarly walked a fine line between making the husband a good and honorable man worthy of Audrey’s mourning, and having him not overshadow Nathaniel. I think she accomplished this better than other authors who have attempted the same thing.
Nathaniel and Audrey themselves were both characters I enjoyed, though I’m still undecided as to whether Nathaniel’s character transformation from commitment-phobic ladies’ man to being in love with Audrey was really subtle, or borderline non-existent. There’s no doubt as to whether or not he changed, I just wasn’t sure when or where or how.
The writing is – from my limited experience – trademark Bevarly, with almost stream-of-consciousness narration, very much in the thought process of the character’s head we’re in at any given moment, with thoughts interrupting and correcting each other. It worked for the most part, but occasionally made me roll my eyes. In any case, it’s no real departure from what fans would expect.
There is a side romance as well, between Silas himself and Audrey’s friend and neighbor. She has a very dark past, and Silas is the only one who can reach her. I have mixed feelings about this story line; on the one hand, I wish it had been its own story and been expanded more, as I felt there was some untapped potential. On the other, I felt somewhat dissatisfied with its conclusion.
Overall, I enjoyed Ready and Willing. It may not be perfect, but it was a solid read that had a good balance of lightness and depth.