Desert Isle Keeper
It seems to me that romance readers are always worrying over the “forced seduction” book. Is it coming back? Is it really about rape? Can violent, abusive men be heroes? I loved Whispering Rock because it made those stories look shallow. Here all of the pain and suffering that someone experiences after an assault are laid bare, from the examining table in the clinic to the panic in public spaces. In this story, the heroes are the men who do their best to support the women in their lives with respect and caring.
Mike Valenzuela and Brie Sheridan have a relationship built upon love of the truest but hardest won kind. As the book opens, Brie, an assistant district attorney, is in the hospital. She has just been assaulted by a serial rapist who was acquitted despite her best efforts. Mike, a best friend and former Marine buddy of her brother Jack, goes to the hospital to join in the vigil over Brie, with whom he had once enjoyed a brief flirtation. Mike now lives in the small town of Virgin River, near Jack’s bar, in a tightly knit but growing circle of former Marines who are settling down near to each other. He is recovering from gunshot wounds taken while on duty for the LAPD, wounds that earned him an early retirement from the force.
Brie must rebuild her life anew. This process begins in the hospital but extends for months. Brie is unable to work. In fact, she finds it difficult to leave her father’s house. She attends counseling and group support, but other than that she tends to stay home. Small steps, like joining a local women’s gym, are her way of slowly rebuilding her life. She is aided in this by the unswerving support of Mike. He calls her regularly and soon the two go out for lunch. Bit by bit Brie begins to spend more time away from home, often in the company of Mike. At first he drives down to Sacramento, but soon Brie is driving to meet him halfway. Then Brie comes to Virgin River to baby-sit her nephew and a real romance blossoms.
Two main plots are woven into Brie and Mike’s romance. Brie must everyday come to terms with her experience and live in a world where her rapist is at large. Meanwhile, back in Virgin River, Jack’s wife Mel, the local nurse, is disturbed by the number of young girls who have come to the clinic. Someone is using date rape drugs to assault local girls, and Mel needs Mike’s police experience to find the culprits.
These two plots set the framework for the real meat of the story: the characters and their relationships. Mike and Brie, Jack and Mel, and Preacher – who cooks at the bar – and his wife Paige, are all in various stages of their relationships. The story is fairly evenly distributed between these three couples. As Mike and Brie grow closer, Jack and Mel adapt to raising their child and Preacher and Paige try to conceive. Other inhabitants of Virgin River have stories of their own as well. A boy returning from basic training explores his relationship with the girl back home. One of the survivors of the local rapist begins to date again as her boyfriend’s sister waits for her husband to return from Iraq.
In all of these relationships, trust, respect, and responsibility are explored. The stories span a wide array of relationships, from anxious teenage fumbling in a car to the concerns of parents working their relationship around pregnancy and children. Carr’s focus is on healthy relationships. Everyone in this book is striving to love and be loved in the face of all life can throw at them- violence and pain, sickness and death.
This book is not a downer, though. Preacher’s celebration of the arrival of ovulation day had me laughing out loud. Jack and Mel share a fierce and funny love that was wonderful to behold. Brie is a tough, spirited woman who relearns to live life to its fullest. Mike is one of my favorite heroes ever- strong, funny, supportive, and such a reformed rake. The night Brie chooses Mike is wonderfully written and very hot.
Whispering Rock will never be a comfort read for me. Nor is it stormy and passionate or charming and funny. But when I read this book the world of Virgin River was real for me, and it was a world I liked living in. Carr writes of men and women working every day to care for and understand each other, and I find that truly romantic.