Baby Love

Cherish

Forever After

Keegan's Lady

Seventh Heaven

Simply Love

 
Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson
(Onyx, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40989-2
*****
Trust veteran author Catherine Anderson to deliver a beautiful story that’s as emotionally honest as it is enchanting. For anyone who’s ever despaired of “quick-fix” endings and physically challenged characters who miraculously recover, Phantom Waltz for you. Just don’t ask for my copy - I’m chaining it to the bookcase.

Wealthy rancher Ryan Kendrick is a ladies’ man who secretly longs to meet that one perfect woman - the one he’ll spend forever with. Then one day, there she is. Bethany Coulter is a new clerk at the local ranch supply store, and as she cheekily handles a lost equipment order, she also captures Ryan’s heart. He asks her out, and watches in puzzlement as her smile fades and she gently rolls herself back from the counter.

Bethany is confined to a wheelchair. A former champion barrel racer, her spine was damaged in a freak riding accident. Now, eight years and three surgeries later, she hides her wounded spirit behind a façade of slightly smart-aleck friendliness. Bethany tries to give Ryan an out; he won’t take no for an answer. And so the woman who believes no man will want her due to her physical limitations meets the man to whom they don’t matter. Ryan and Bethany click. He won’t let her get away.

There are plenty of obstacles in the way of true love, and Ryan is determined to overcome them all. The obvious ones - modifications to his ranch, finding activities Bethany can do - are easy compared to the bigger issues facing them. For starters, there’s Bethany’s reserve. Her teenage love turned tail after her accident; now she’s terrified she’ll lose her heart to this handsome cowboy. When Ryan proposes they be “just friends”, she reluctantly agrees. Ryan has an ulterior motive, of course. Friendship isn’t all he wants - but it’s the only way to convince Bethany he means to stick around.

Then there’s Bethany’s overprotective family, in particular, her older brother Jake. He’s not about to let Ryan toy with his sister. Bethany isn’t the only Coulter Ryan will have to win over. And last but not least, there’s the issue of physical intimacy. When Ryan and Bethany finally take that step, things don’t happen as expected. Several unexpected plot twists (and a lot of inventiveness on Ryan’s part) will leave the reader wondering where this will all end. The journey is plenty hot.

It’s a delightful twist to read a story in which the hero falls head over heels for the heroine, only to be rebuffed. Ryan and Bethany are both full, complex characters whose reasons for their actions are right in character. How, you may ask, can a ladies’ man fall convincingly in love after only one or two meetings? If he feels the emptiness in his life, and if he knows quickly that this woman fills it, it works. The author presents Ryan as a man so attracted to Bethany’s lively spirit, pretty face, and sense of humor that her wheelchair simply doesn’t matter - it’s a part of her as much as her hair color or her shoe size. So his puzzlement over her refusal to be involved makes sense.

Bethany may strike some readers as a bit too resistant. But her reasoning - that she might disappoint this man and he’d be too much of a gentleman to back out felt honest. And as the reader views her daily routine, it’s understandable. Ordinary tasks are often strenuous and lengthy for Bethany. When she tearfully explains why she’d be a terrible ranch wife, you’ll ache for her, too. And when Ryan helps her to waltz again (the “phantom waltz” of the title), you’ll feel her joy.

Since Ryan is a multimillionaire (land sale to developers), the monetary issues of remodeling a kitchen, paving the ranch with walkways, buying back Bethany’s beloved horse, etc. are never issues. If only life were that simple. Reference is made to the difficulty many paraplegics have in attempting some activities due to the cost, but here it’s never a concern.

The secondary characters are lively and appealing, too, especially Sly, a weathered ranch hand who is secretly in love himself. Since this book is a follow-up to last year’s Baby Love, readers will get to peek in on Ryan’s brother Rafe and his new wife and family. Ryan’s parents zip in and out of the story, adding a bit of punch when needed. Bethany’s family is also on the scene, particularly Jake, who might just be Ms. Anderson’s next hero. I’d certainly like to see him get his own story, and he’s not a millionaire, either.

Phantom Waltz is a tender, funny, emotional love story, one of the most delightful I’ve read this year. Discovering life and love from Bethany’s side of the chair is an experience you won’t soon forget, and Ryan will steal your heart. Run, don’t walk, to grab your own copy.

--Cathy Sova


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