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The Lightkeeper’s Woman
by Mary Burton
(Harlequin Hist., $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29293-7
****
Mary Burton has written an entertaining “second chance at love” story that is purely about the characters and is enhanced by the setting - the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the 1880’s. The dialog is crisp, the story is fast-paced and except for one minor lapse near the end, The Lightkeeper’s Woman is vastly enjoyable.

In 1882, Alanna Patterson, eighteen-year-old spoiled society miss from Richmond, Virginia, and daughter of the owner of a shipping company, fell in love with a roguish sea captain named Caleb Pitt. Caleb was adventurous, handsome and a man with honor who just clicked with Alanna. They had a brief but passionate courtship and decided to marry. Alanna’s father was not happy, but after a few months seemed to be changing his mind. Caleb was set to leave on a one of his ships and Alanna was going to wait for his return to marry in a big society wedding. The night before he left, they made love and promised each other forever.

But on the voyage, the ship’s boiler blew up and 23 crewmen died. Caleb survived and was ostracized – an inquiry showed (falsely according to Caleb) that he had not maintained the ship properly and had put profits before safety. Alanna was having her own problems, undergoing a miscarriage and being snubbed by all her friends. In her youth, she rejected Caleb and believed her father.

It is now two years later. Alanna’s life has changed dramatically in that time. Her father committed suicide and left her without funds and in debt. She had to learn to take care of herself, forced to sell off most of her possessions in order to survive. She now finds herself semi-engaged to a staid, pompous man named Henry, who is the only person who stuck by her while most of society slowly shunned her. Henry is controlling and she doesn’t love him, but he represents security, something she hasn’t had in what seems like forever.

But some of her rebellious nature remains and she finds herself traveling to Easton, North Carolina, to give Caleb a box that was part of the bequest to him from her father. She had sent it by mail and he returned it unopened. Alanna feels she cannot go on with her life without finishing things with Caleb. Easton is on the shore of Currituck Sound across from the Outer Banks, where Caleb is living as the lighthouse keeper. It seems that his father was the keeper for years and Caleb has returned home, scarred and basically hiding from the world, but not from life. He is not really a recluse; he has simply retreated to the island of his happy childhood.

Caleb was injured in the blast that blew him to safety, leaving him with a scar on his cheek. He is more injured in his heart, where he feels responsible for the families of those crewmembers. He has quietly taken care of as many families as he could find. He blames Alanna’s father for the blast, having proof that he sabotaged the ship. He just could not prove it at the inquiry. He “hates” Alanna for abandoning him and his love.

Now they are confronted with each other, and due to a storm, Alanna is stranded on his island with him. She gets sick after he rescues her from the sound when the man she hires to take her across leaves her to drown in the storm. Caleb takes care of her and nurses her to health. While she is recovering, they rediscover their love and work through all their problems. While I make this sound simple, it takes time with many stops and starts. They both must learn from the mistakes of the past, while recognizing the changes the years have wrought. They fall in love all over again.

The story is enhanced by the island and the storms and Caleb’s goodness. He is a true lighthouse keeper, helping to rescue people trapped on the sandbanks.

But by this time, Caleb is determined to win Alanna back and she fights her feelings all the way. None of this breaks new ground in romance stories, but the author handles it without predictability. Caleb easily acknowledges his attraction and his love for Alanna. He recognizes the strengths of character he saw glimpses of when she was younger and he relishes those strengths now. He helps her see the truth of what really happened. Yet he realizes she needs to make up her own mind. Alanna is a delightful heroine who is able to see the truth and doesn’t deny what she learns to be true. In fact, she works through what the deceptions mean and becomes a better person for it. How refreshing!

There is one slight blip in the scenario when the author succumbs to the “big misunderstanding” but luckily neither the hero nor the heroine stay stuck there for long and the story resolves itself nicely. Secondary characters are basic formula small town people, but they show the loyalty of Caleb’s friends. Henry is a pompous man and he acts true to form in his brief appearance.

Overall, however, this is a story not of falling in love for the first time, but of rediscovering a first love that is stronger because of the time spent apart. It is a coming of age and recognition of the power of love in overcoming the realities of the human experience. The story shows that each person must first understand who they are before they can share themselves fully with another person. The Lightkeeper’s Woman is a fine romance and one I think you will enjoy as much as I did.

--Shirley Lyons


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