I don’t usually read category romances, but after enjoying several that were recommended on DearAuthor.com, I thought I’d give this one a try. I’m glad I did, because despite its publication in the nineties, it holds up remarkably well.
Dr. Eric Bergstrom is a small town vet approached by the stunning Madeline Hunter for vet services for the local no kill cat shelter. As a serial dater of beautiful women, Dr. Bergstrom is quick to make his move but is shocked when Madeline won’t go out with him. He manages to convince her to go out to dinner after adopting a cat from the shelter, but only a few days later his surly 12 year old son arrives in town. Madeline befriends the snarly pre-teen Garth, but when he realizes that his Dad is contemplating marriage, Garth begins to change his tune and wants nothing to do with her. For the first time, womanizer Eric has to work to win over the skittish Madeline, all while rebuilding his relationship with his son.
This is a sweet romance that will definitely appeal to animal lovers. The beasts mentioned in the title refer to the cats of the no-kill shelter where Madeline and Eric volunteer, but they could also include Garth, who’s a real stinker. Eric’s ex-wife is remarrying, and Garth clearly feels abandoned. Add those feelings to a healthy dose of pre-teen angst, and you really feel for Eric having to deal with his rude and obnoxious son. Fortunately for Eric and anyone else who has to deal with Garth, Madeline manages to charm the twelve year old with ease by asking him to foster kittens. The experience with the kittens and his time at the cat shelter help Garth mature and give him something other than himself to think about. Also, as an owner of a rescue dog, it was hard not to cry when Garth had to let his foster kittens go to a new family!
I liked that the relationship between Eric and Madeline developed gradually, as they interacted as friends before becoming intimate. Madeline was a child model and actor, and she has issues with men judging her by her appearance, which explains her initial resistance to Eric. Because of her background in modeling, there’s a rather unfortunate love scene where Eric describes her as beautiful and Madeline freaks out and breaks off the relationship completely, leaving Eric devastated. This is really the only complaint I have about the novel, because it just seems so ridiculous that in the middle of having sex Madeline would call things off simply because Eric calls her beautiful and makes a few (tasteful) comments about her breasts. What did she think he would say in bed? Her reaction seemed way over the top and created conflict where there really was no need. Trust me, the twelve year old stinker was more than enough for any book!
There’s also a subplot concerning Madeline’s relationship with her mother that helps Madeline deal with Garth’s resistance to his father’s interest in her. Madeline resents her lack of a childhood and when her mother comes to visit for several weeks, that resentment results in a confrontation between mother and daughter that ultimately leads to better communication between the two. Madeline looks back on her childhood, and her reflections help her talk with Garth and convince him that his parents can have relationships with other adults while still caring for their son.
Overall I felt the relationships between the three main characters were believable and developed naturally over the course of the book. All three had epiphanies at different points in the novel, and Ms. Johnston neatly tied up the various plot lines in a way that felt natural rather than forced. I definitely recommend Beauty & the Beasts – if I had to give it a grade, I’d rate it a B+/A-.