Irish Fire

An Irish Lady



The Lavender Field
by Jeanette Baker
(Mira, PG, $6.99) ISBN 0-7783-2311-0
If anyone had ever told me that I'd give a sweet romance a four-heart rating, I'd probably have laughed at them. Actually it's me, so I'd probably have told them exactly why I'm not a sweet kind of girl in not so sweet terms. But Jeannette Baker proved me wrong.

The Lavender Field is a simple story: Whitney Benedict has spent her whole life making up for one mistake. As a young woman she married the wrong man and has been paying the price ever since her parents had to bail her out. Now she's a successful international lawyer in her late thirties leading a solitary life. But when the Austrian government commissions her to buy Gabriel Mendoza's one-a-kind purebreds, her life begins to take a drastic turn.

Gabe isn't interested in selling the horses his father smuggled out of the country during the war. All he wants is to preserve his family's heritage and not even the prospect of millions can lure him out of his complacency. Between trying to raise his teenage stepchildren and his autistic daughter, Gabriel's given up on love. Luckily for him, his mother hasn't. Upon meeting the serene and collected Whitney, she immediately abandons her aspirations and sets her sites on her new houseguest.

Whitney and Gabe soon realize that nothing stands in Mercedes Mendoza's way once she makes up her mind.

The story reads kind of like a Lifetime movie. I can totally picture Crystal Bernard as Whitney, pulling up to the horse stables, watching Gabriel put the horses through their paces. Usually, that's not a good thing in my book. But Baker balances the sap with a touch of humor in the form of mama Mendoza. While Mercedes could have come off as a cliché - the embarrassing mom who dresses loudly and drinks morning margaritas, she actually does a great job of inflicting a bit of levity into their lives and their situation. It isn't easy to be upbeat with custody disputes, multi-million dollar deals and a somewhat surly teenage granddaughter, but Mercedes puts it all in perspective and keeps the story moving.

Baker takes a chance by having Gabe's youngest daughter be autistic. It's hard to treat a situation like that with the respect it deserves while not having a heavy tone. But the topic of Claire's Asperger's syndrome is dealt with tastefully and not used as a pathetic plot device. Sure the child bonds with Whitney a bit, but Baker doesn't go so far as to have Whitney be the answer to all of life's problems. Gabe's world is better when Whitney's in it, but not perfect. This bit of realism grounds the story and keeps it from being trite.

I loved the fact that despite growing close to Gabe's kids, Whitney still has to adjust to the idea of being a mom. Early in the book she points out that being a mother means not ever being alone for the next twenty years (or so) and that she isn't sure that's for her. It's rare to have a heroine who, while not hating children, is totally undecided about the subject - especially for an older heroine. Whitney's been alone (and happy) for so long, she has a hard time seeing herself as anything else. I really respect the fact that Baker gets that and doesn't try to rush her heroine into being mommy of the year.

Baker's plot is entangled with many complicated relationships - almost too many. Whitney and her mother have issues; Gabe and his ex (and her mother) have problems and Emma (the oldest) has a problem with everyone. Baker has cast a wide net, but reels in everything nicely (but not too nicely) by the end of the book. While this one was a bit tame for my tastes, it was an enjoyable, almost peaceful read and will definitely have me rethinking my stance on sweet romance.

--Amanda Waters

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