The Return of Rafe MacKade
The MacKade brothers of Antietam, Maryland, says the back cover of The Return of Rafe MacKade, are “Looking for trouble – and always finding it. Now they’re on a collision course with love.” Truer words have never been spoken. So far I’ve read the first two books in this quartet, and want to savor them for a bit longer before I dive into the next installment.
Rafe MacKade is the baddest of the brothers – he left town years before to make his way in the world. He’s been successful as a contractor and has come back to small-town Antietam to wrestle with the ghosts, both past and present, which trouble him. He’s bought Barlow House, which lies empty, ruined, and haunted, and plans to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
He hires Regan Bishop, local antique shop owner, to help him in the restoration of Barlow House. She’s lived in town for a few years now, and knows all about Rafe’s legendary bad-boy reputation. She’s not looking for a relationship because she doesn’t want to turn out like the country-club wife her mother was. And Rafe likes things simple – brothers, friends, good food, good sex – these are the important things. Why make things complicated like falling in love?
Barlow House, along with the farmland owned by the MacKade’s, are haunted by the ghosts of two families and two soldiers (one Yankee, one Rebel) mystically tied to the MacKade family. Each MacKade brother and the woman he will fall in love with will feel this connection, and, to varying extent, play a part in allowing the ghosts to rest.
Nora Roberts has an amazing ability to make a series romance, with its length constraints, seem like a full-length read. A sub-plot of spousal abuse of Cassie Dolan by her drunken lout of a husband Joe, begins in the prologue (it is a fist-fight between Joe and Rafe that spurs Rafe into leaving town), plays a large part in this book, continues throughout the next, and into book three, where Rafe’s brother Sheriff Devin MacKade has his love story with Cassie. Most series romances don’t even have sub-plots/secondary characters; what Nora has done here is very special.
Rafe and Regan are strong characters, although Regan’s strength is deceptively hidden behind a well-manicured demeanor. Watching them adjust to falling in love, fighting it, and then giving in to it, is a delight to read.
Equally as delightful is the wit with which the author has written the relationship between the four brothers. These guys punch each other out at the slightest provocation, and relish it – at times they seem like four overgrown puppies alternately sharing and fighting for a big bone.
Nora Roberts never forgets she’s writing romance, and doesn’t let this wonderful camaraderie overshadow the growing and tumultuous love between Rafe and Regan. Each fights against their worst fears, which naturally results in their fighting against the other. You’ll love how the wager they make turns out. In an erstwhile game of chicken, Rafe bets he’ll be the cause of Regan walking into the local tavern wearing red leather and hooker shoes and she bets she’ll have him bringing her lilacs and spouting love poems.
Taken together, the entire series might just end up being a Desert Island Keeper, but this book by itself is a solid “B”. Regan’s antipathy for her mother’s lifestyle seems overdone. Too, a love-scene device the author uses here, has shown up in three books I’ve read by her now, which is one time too many. If you’ve read Born In Fire and Sea Swept (both Desert Island Keepers), you’ll recognize the hero’s slowing down the love-making and having a revelation that slow and sweet can be as good as hard and fast. I thought it was well-done the first two times around; now it seems a bit clichéd (I realize this book was written before Sea Swept, but I hadn’t read it before then. So sue me.)
If you enjoy romances with wonderful family relationships, this book will fit you to a “T”.