Dear Ms. Lennox,
I’m always happy to find a new novel by you when I’m browsing the Harlequin site, and when the cover (accurately) includes a dog, I’m immediately downloading. This book is the second in your Banksia Bay series, the first of which Jayne reviewed here. While both books are set in the same place and have plots revolving around stray dogs, the stories are independent and stand alone. This is an unusual book in several ways, but I found it a satisfying and enjoyable read.
Nikkita Morrissy is a thirty-year-old professional from Sydney. She’s retreated to the seclusion of Banksia Bay after finding out that her boss and lover of four years had a wife and family half a world away (with any other author I would be out of here now, but it’s you, so I keep going). Nikki rents half of a duplex cottage from the live-in owner, Gabe Carver, a local fisherman who is notoriously unsociable. They manage to avoid each other for three weeks, but then they collide in an attempt to rescue an abandoned dog. This dog is huge, shaggy, malnourished, and desperately missing his owner, who has sailed away and apparently isn’t giving him a second thought.
The local animal shelter has reluctantly decided that he isn’t able to be adopted and so will be put down when he’s captured. But Nikki, who has never had a dog, falls in love with him, matted hair and all, and decides to take him in pending Gabe’s approval. Gabe recently lost his canine best friend of sixteen years and doesn’t want the dog around but has no good reason to refuse Nikki, especially after a couple of the townspeople enthusiastically offer to help her learn about dog care and training. Slowly and reluctantly, Gabe grows closer to both Nikki and the dog, and all three learn to live less in the past and look forward to the future.
One of the things I like most about your stories is that the people feel real and worthy of the reader’s respect. Nikki is an engineer who designs commercial air-conditioning systems and is both successful and highly paid. When she breaks off the relationship with her boss she doesn’t throw up her job but finds a way to do it from Banksia Bay. Over the course of the novel Nikki does change to a different occupation, but her reasons for doing it make sense, and they are motivated by changes within herself. Gabe is genuinely surly and antisocial, and he has good reason to be. And although he is the owner of a fishing business that is crucial to the town’s economy, he is still very much an everyday fisherman. For both of these characters, work is a critical part of their lives, and the story reflects that.
This is definitely a book for animal lovers. There is a lot of time devoted to the rescue and rehabilitation of Horse, the aptly named dog. Parts of the book are heartbreaking for a dog person like me, for example when Horse runs away to find his worthless master. You don’t sugarcoat what it takes to rescue a dog, and it’s clear you know what you’re talking about. I was pretty sure that Horse would also have an HEA, and I’m glad to say he does, or this review would have to come with a trigger warning.
Nikki and Gabe need rescuing as much as Horse does, but as is often the case in your books, they rescue themselves and then commit to a relationship, rather than using insta-love to make their individual problems go away. Nikki is quicker to acknowledge that she’s fallen for Gabe than he is to admit his feelings, but she refuses to become a doormat in the process:
He wanted her–she could see it, she could feel it, she could almost touch it. But he was … afraid?
“You”re not like your father,” she said as evenly as she could. “But I’m not Lisbette, either.”
“I know that.”
“You don’t,” she said. “Otherwise you’d check my pipes for me, right here, right now. Trust me, Gabe.”
“No, you don’t. And whether you can learn … You can’t open yourself a little and protect the rest. That’s what Jonathan did. That’s what I’m used to and I’ve moved on. I think … I think I love you, Gabe, but I’m not going to love a man who spends his life protecting his boundaries.”
She stepped back. Hoping he’d stop her.
He didn’t and she felt sick.
Feeling bad was dumb. She should give him space.
She had to give him space.
Like she’d given space to Jonathan?
“Goodnight, Gabe,” she said as firmly as she could. “Thank you for a wonderful dinner. Horse and I loved it. See you … see you tomorrow. Come on, Horse, bed.”
Gabe eventually comes around, of course. If readers are looking for a good grovel in this book, they won’t find it (and Gabe does a few things that merit a grovel). Instead you give us a dog-in-jeopardy scene and a rescue that fits the tone of the story and lets the community give back to Gabe a bit of what he’s provided to them over the years. And we know he’s finally wised up, because he lets them.