Rare is the author who can make the old "heroine as supermodel" scenario seem fresh. But don't underestimate the possibilities behind a talented pen like Dinah McCall's. Not only is Touchstone an engrossing read, it sounds authentic to boot.
The story opens as twenty-year-old Rachel Austin watches her family home being sold at auction to pay her late parents' outstanding debts. She's just buried her mother; her father died seven years ago in a rodeo accident, and Rachel's life has always been a hardscrabble one at best. The rough West Texas land doesn't offer much. The Austin land is worth little -- but it's Rachel's home. Only her love for Houston Bookout enables
her to watch it go.
Houston and Rachel have loved each other for years. Now that Rachel is alone, Houston assumes they'll get married. His job as a feed hauler pays enough to get by, though there's little left over and no prospects for advancement. Still, it enables him to hang onto his family ranch. Rachel, in a panic at the prospect of a life as hard as her parents, decides to leave Houston, even though she loves him passionately, and head for New
York to try and make it as a model. She must get away from the poverty before it destroys her. Rachel slips away from Houston, who is anguished at her loss and doesn't know where she's gone.
Through a chance meeting on a bus with an elderly woman named Esther, Rachel will get her wish. She's "discovered" while waiting tables in a restaurant, and her exotic half-Indian looks enable her to become the newest face for Timeless perfume, where soon she's making more money than she ever dreamed. Since all her dreams are of Houston and the love she left behind, it's not long before Rachel begins to question her judgment.
Houston, on his end, will find his life changed when he befriends a man lost in a snowstorm. It seems that Houston's bleak Texas ranch is hiding a secret under its acreage, and Kenny Monday is just the man to find it.
Then tragedy strikes, in the form of a deranged fan of Rachel's. Her career lies shattered -- as well as leaving her physically debilitated. Houston comes to retrieve her, thanks to Esther, but will he be able to convince her that she's still perfect to him? Rachel, for her part, loves Houston but doesn't want his pity. What will Houston do when he finds out
how much she's worth?
I'll be the first to admit, I had plenty of reservations about the premise after scanning the back blurb. Gorgeous supermodel? Oh boy. But the story isn't about Rachel's being a model as much as it's about her becoming a model, and in that respect, her long hours at the restaurant and loneliness in the city seem very real, indeed. Houston's devastation at losing his love is palpable, and he's such a charming guy
anyway that he'll immediately steal readers' hearts. The story moves along at a brisk clip; characters are introduced for a reason, and even though savvy readers will pinpoint the climax, it's still got a twist to it.
There will probably be readers who won't like the fact that the leads spend the middle half of the book apart. The scene shifts from New York to Texas, as we see how Rachel and Houston are carrying on with their separate lives, mourning their loss, trying to get by. And there's quite a bit of time spent inside the head of the nutcase fan, which led me to a bit of impatience. Not that it's not well done -- it's mesmerizingly creepy, in fact. I guess I was more interested in the two leads and wanted to return to their romance. Heaven knows they'd worked hard enough for it. And it was definitely worth the wait.
For a poignant contemporary romance with a touch of suspense, you'd have to go pretty far to top Touchstone. Start it early in the evening because you'll be up for a while. This one comes strongly recommended.