Desert Isle Keeper
Together Always is a book I’d heard great things about, and it lived up to its reputation. A story of rare sensitivity and touching emotion, it really is something special.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first, Trace Dushane is just a teenager when his stepfather’s young niece Lily comes to live with their family. Life is hard on the Oklahoma prairie. His stepfather is a drunk who’s perpetually unemployed. His mother is a sad woman, beaten down by her husband and the blows life has thrown at her. Lily is the lone bright spot in his world. The quiet little girl trusts him with the whole-hearted innocence of a child. Trace begins to notice the look in his stepfather’s eye when he looks at Lily and realizes she’s not safe from the man’s attentions. With no one else to turn to, he sets out to protect her no matter what it takes.
The second part picks up years later, with Trace and Lily now grown. Trace has always protected Lily. Now she’s a woman, one who is in love with him. He loves her, too; he always has. But he resists his feelings, believing it wouldn’t be right to let their relationship become romantic. Then circumstances bring them close together again, and Trace can no longer deny the depth of his feelings for her.
The first part is truly exceptional. It’s told in a unique style that’s far different than most romances, especially series titles. Poignant, heartbreaking and deeply moving, it would take a harder heart than mine not to be affected by the plight of these two children, cast out into the world with no one to rely on but each other. Part One lasts only a little more than seventy pages, but it’s better than most whole books.
Together Always deserves to be called a keeper based on the first part alone, which is so good that it’s almost inevitable that the second part would be somewhat of a letdown in comparison. It would be hard to sustain that kind of emotional level for an entire book. The second part is more conventional, featuring a suspense sub-plot, and isn’t as powerful as the first. Fortunately, this part is still beautifully written, with several heartfelt moments and great scenes.
In another unusual move, none of the story is told from Lily’s perspective. It’s all from Trace’s point of view, with the occasional glimpse from other characters (including one I was relieved to learn received a book of his own several years after this one, evidently due in part to reader request. I can understand why). For the most part this storytelling technique works, really allowing the reader to get to know who Trace is, both as a boy and a man, and we truly experience the depth of his feelings for Lily. But Lily comes across as so perfect (perhaps understandably since that’s how he sees her) that I couldn’t help wishing for a little more insight into who she was as a person.
Together Always is a moving story about one man’s devotion to a child and the woman she becomes. With a combination of beautiful writing, memorable characters and heartfelt emotion, this isn’t just a great series book. It’s a great romance, period.