Desert Isle Keeper
First Time at Firelight Falls
If you’re a fan of slow-burn romances, I suggest you jump into First Time at Firelight Falls. I can’t think of the last time an author pulled this trope off so well – or the last time I was able to read so much meaning into just a few lines of dialogue. This book took me on an unexpected, but thoroughly enjoyable, ride.
Gabriel Caldera has had a bit of a crush on Eden Harwood for a while. Eden is the single mother of a bubbly ten-year-old girl named Annelise, while Gabe is the principal of Annelise’s elementary school. Between a million assemblies, board meetings, and PTA events he has taken notice of Eden, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. Not only has Gabe been out of the game for a few years, but he’s also not sure how interested Eden would be in him or if she could even find the time for a relationship.
The answer is that Eden would be very interested, but that she cannot find the time. As a single mother who also runs her own florist shop, Eden has every week planned out down to the minute. She’s also even less sure than Gabe about how to pursue some sort of romantic relationship, given that the last man in her life was Annelise’s father, very briefly, a decade earlier. She’s absolutely noticed that the principal of her daughter’s school is attractive, but hasn’t even considered doing anything about that.
The first couple chapters of this book are wonderfully, painfully awkward as Gabe and Eden start to move past a professional relationship fraught with longing and in the direction of a personal relationship. They both have a sense that the attraction between them is mutual, and yet it’s hard to put into words… which is why Gabe develops a plan. He starts teasing Eden by intentionally leaving unfinished sentences at the end of their constantly interrupted conversations. Each time she sees him again and resumes the conversation from where he left off, it’s confirmation that he’s been on her mind. Though their conversations in the school pick-up line and at PTA meetings may seem simple, they allow Gabe and Eden to get to know each other and forge a level of understanding. It’s delicious to watch.
Then, just as Gabe and Eden are getting comfortable, fate throws a wrench in the works in the form of Annelise’s father. While their situation is unique in some ways, Ms. Long makes Eden feel like any other single mom trying to navigate the murky waters of her child’s relationship with her father. He hasn’t been involved in Annelise’s life up to this point, so Eden is torn between wanting to protect her daughter from whatever hurt he could cause and wanting to allow her the father she’s always wondered about.
I loved this book for a lot of reasons, but the sheer normalcy of Gabe, Eden, and their problems is one of the first things that drew me in. Conversations at school events, struggles to schedule a date between school and work and piano lessons – all familiar aspects of life, are made exciting here. Ms. Long has hit her stride with contemporary romances, creating likeable characters and a story that flows naturally.
While this set-up made me predisposed to enjoy the book, what held my attention and pushed it into DIK range is the way Eden and Gabe’s characters develop. They’re both in a good place when the book starts – Eden is happy with her life as a single mom just as Gabe enjoys his work as elementary school principal. Yet as they begin to get involved, both Gabe and Eden are reminded that there is another dimension to life they’ve been ignoring. There is growth on both their parts as they first learn how to balance a relationship with already busy lives, and then when Annelise’s father appears, learn how to make that a strong relationship.
There are many other things I could say about First Time at Firelight Falls, but it really comes down to this being a charming story about real people. There are no perfectly behaved children, no supermoms who balance work and single parenting effortlessly, just great characters you’ll root for.