Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I don’t think Chance had hit her stride as a writer when she wrote this historical romance, but she was already creating challenging characters. After the Frost stands out for not only having a mother who abandoned her child — breaking the number one romance commandment, Thou Shalt Not Be an Imperfect Mother — but didn’t do it in a particularly melodramatic way. Unwed mother Belle left her newborn daughter Sarah in the care of people she trusted, hoping to make enough money so they could be together soon, but life was hard and the years slipped away before she realized it.
The story opens as Belle returns to her old home on a farm, having discovered that her mother Lillian and Sarah’s father Rand (Belle’s stepbrother) had tracked down and reclaimed the child two years previously. She’s determined that Sarah, now five, won’t grow up in the same soul-crushing atmosphere she did, but she’s flummoxed to realize that Rand and Sarah love each other. Although Lillian and Rand both think of Belle as wild, reckless, and untrustworthy, she’s actually a very decent person; she resolves to stay at the farm instead of trying to take Sarah away.
Rand on the other hand… not so decent. I’d like to think writers just didn’t create this kind of character anymore, but in fact I read a new one just the other day.
Rand not only raped Belle — who is seven years younger than him — when she was just 15, but rejected her immediately afterwards. Her mother rejected her too, forcing her to leave home as a pregnant teenager. Rand couldn’t help himself — it was just those uncontrollable feelings of his! Plus — you guessed it — mommy issues! In classic Diana Palmer fashion, he did his best to blot what happened out of his mind, which somehow results in him being angry at Belle. And trying not to give in to his feelings again, he continues to reject and mistreat Belle, as well as cruelly using other women in an effort to forget her.
The building of the relationship between Belle and Sarah is nicely done. Belle instinctively understands her in many ways — both of them raised by the same hard, judgmental woman — but she doesn’t know much about being a mom and inevitably makes painful mistakes. Belle’s relationship with her mother is also drawn with some depth, and turns out to be far less one-note than Belle had thought. The details and atmosphere of small town life in the 1800s are lively, especially since Belle always refused to follow rules and grew up pretty much as one of the boys.
But Rand… he’s supposed to be a believably flawed human being, I guess, and he certainly does have his good points. But how do you get past the whole raping his 15 year old stepsister thing? Especially when he almost does it again? (Oh, and I forgot about how he likes to call her “little girl” during sex, which adds a layer that I think — hope! — Chance did not intend.) The magnitude of what he did requires more redemption than the book delivered. It was an interesting read and I do love seeing a rare flawed mom, but after all she went through, she deserved better from a romance novel, dammit.
(I have to mention, also, that the digitizing is terrible.)