Always in My Heart

Annie's Song

Baby Love

Cherish

Forever After

Keegan's Lady

Phantom Waltz

Seventh Heaven

Simply Love

Sweet Nothings

 
Only By Your Touch
by Catherine Anderson
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20794-7
****
Many of Catherine Anderson’s novels follow a set formula: wounded heroine fleeing some menacing past meets gallant (and often wealthy) hero who adores everything about her and restores her confidence. Typically her heroines are a wee bit on the airhead side but are self-sacrificing and virtuous to a fault. Her heroes are nobility and sensitivity personified.

Chloe Evans meets Ben Longtree at the feed store where she’s come with her six-year-old son Jeremy to buy pet supplies for his new puppy. Recently divorced from an abusive husband, Chloe has taken a position as dispatcher at the Jack Pine, Oregon, sheriff’s office. The checkout clerk eagerly supplies Chloe with all the local gossip about him - quarter-breed Shoshone, murdered a man but got off on self-defense, child of abusive father, wolf for a pet, wild animals on his property, cougar on a leash, veterinarian but not practicing.

When the puppy becomes very ill and Chloe is unable to pay his fee up-front, Jeremy takes the puppy to Ben. Ben is initially not welcoming, but when Jeremy experiences an asthma attack, Ben is forced to soften his manner. Animals naturally come to Ben for help with sickness or injuries. He has wanted to turn his land on Cinnamon Ridge into a wildlife preserve but has been unable to get the necessary permits. Someone has been shooting wild animals with the intent to wound not kill. He is keeping wild animals he is treating in cages against government regulations and know Bobby Lee Schuck, the sheriff’s deputy, would love to have an excuse to arrest him. Ben swears Jeremy and later Chloe to secrecy about the animals. Against his instincts, Ben agrees to care for the puppy. During the night, when it appears the puppy is dying, Ben’s touch saves him.

In order to cover the puppy’s vet bills, Chloe agrees to clean animal cages for Ben. At work she has tried to discourage Bobby Lee’s interest. He becomes more determined in his pursuit when he realizes she’s become friends with Ben. With her frequent visits to Cinnamon Ridge, Chloe comes to appreciate Ben’s kindness to Jeremy, his aged mother suffering from Alzheimer’s as well as to all the various animals. She suspects there is more to Ben than he is willing to reveal.

Recently I’ve read a number of books with walk-on-water heroes, but Ben makes most of them look downright pedestrian. The man’s not only absolute masculine perfection, he’s a blooming saint! The object of hostile suspicions, he’s suffering in silence, risking his very freedom to heal helpless animals, sad kids, and abused women. And if that’s not enough, he’s tall, handsome, and a real hunk as well. And more! The big wonder is why his first wife divorced him. She thought he was a freak? She could have sold him on e-bay and given the rest of us a chance! Of course, we know she’s completely undeserving of this paragon of manly virtues - she does the unthinkable for romance heroines: it’s not only that she’s been unfaithful, oh no, she schedules - horrors! - an abortion.

The closest Only By Your Touch comes to a realistic character is Chloe. A single mother with practically no financial resources (what about child support or a divorce settlement?) she’s struggling to make ends meet and provide a supportive environment for her child just as vast numbers of other single mothers try to do. Her reactions to the scummy Bobby Lee are credible - she’s new in town and at her job and is still trying to fit in. It does seem odd that Bobby Lee has been able to keep his real character a secret for so many years, but there is a reason behind his hatred of Ben. Jeremy is that typical fictional child - far better behaved then any real child ever was.

I admit to some discomfort with the particular circumstances behind Chloe’s divorce. She seems to have dumped hubby #1 with great dispatch. Given the unusual history of the trouble in her marriage and the abrupt onset of difficulties, I would have preferred that she had sought more outside help or gone through a trial separation rather than filing divorce papers immediately. This is not the standard abusive relationship. I do understand her concern over the safety of her child, but her haste seems to weaken her position.

A reader might be forgiven for mistaking Cinnamon Ridge for paradise. Cougars, wolves, and deer, badgers, bears, and bunny rabbits all live together in peace and harmony. Presumably, the carnivores know to go somewhere else for lunch. Anyone looking for insight into real nature is better off watching PBS, but for those who like their wild life on the tame, cutesy side, it corresponds pretty well to Disney World.

Only By Your Touch has it all: peerless hero, spunky heroine, cute kid, suffering senior, nasty villain, loads of adorable animals all in a bucolic setting. What’s not to like? Moreover, the reading is easy - I was caught up in the story from the beginning.

I do want to caution that in spite of the four-heart recommendation this one isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a romance that’s firmly in touch with reality, this one might leave you with a syrupy aftertaste. If, however, you believe in miracles and are willing to suspend all disbelief, you can’t do much better.

--Lesley Dunlap


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