“Hey, there,” he said. “You must be Shelby Kincaid.”
She jumped, her startled green eyes softening as she faced him and exhaled.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you. I’m-”
“My hero.” She flashed an excited smile and extended her hand. “I’m so glad you’re here. The place is quite a mess, isn’t it.”
“Not surprising.” As he took her hand, a long-forgotten warmth charged through him. “It’s been empty more than a decade.”
She flushed and quickly withdrew her hand. “Ever since the Sullivans stole it.”
“Stole it?” He took off his Ohio State ball cap and tapped it against his leg, unsure whether to be amused or insulted. “You’re kidding, right?”
“This house was built by my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.” She grinned at the repetition and lightly caressed the wooden porch railing. The splintered white paint chipped beneath her fingers. “I just have a hard time understanding . . . I mean, what kind of person takes a family’s home and leaves it empty year after year?”
AJ had never given a thought to how his grandfather acquired the Lassiter farm. After inheriting it, AJ had cared even less.
“Anyway, you’re here now, taking the old homestead back from the evil Sullivans.”
Shelby’s eyes brightened with anticipation. “That’s right. In just a few hours, the farm will be mine. Back in the family where it belongs.”
“Do you plan to live here?”
“Absolutely. How long do you think it will be before we can move in?”
“I have no idea.”
“I suppose all the wiring will have to be replaced. Have you checked it out?”
He pointed at his chest. “Me? Why would I do that?”
“That’s why I hired you . . .” Her brow furrowed. “You’re not the contractor?”
“High school history teacher. And assistant football coach. Varsity.”
“AJ Sullivan.” She practically spat his name as she wrapped her arms around her stomach.
Shelby Kincaid is ready to move forward after the death of her husband left her devastated. With high hopes for the future, she longs to purchase her family’s homestead, Misty Willow, so she can raise her young daughters in the only place she ever truly belonged. She plans to transform the abandoned house into the perfect home of her memories. But she has her work cut out for her.
AJ Sullivan never wanted Shelby’s family homestead in the first place. His grandfather left it to him as punishment for not following his wishes, and he’s let it fall into ruin. AJ’s more than happy to unload it to this spitfire of a woman. But even after angry exchanges over the state of the house, he can’t get her off his mind.
With writing that evokes a strong sense of place and family history, Johnnie Alexander deftly explores the ties that bind us to home–and the irresistible forces that draw us to each other.
This is a solid beginning to Johnnie Alexander’s Misty Willow series, with a lot more going on than I anticipated from the description.
When Shelby writes to AJ, pleading with him to consider her offer for Misty Willow, AJ’s grandmother tells him: Find a way. Make the past right. The house belongs to Shelby. The terms of his grandfather’s Will state that he cannot sell it for another four years, but his grandmother’s encouragement is all he needs to find a loophole and so an agreement is reached.
Shelby Kincaid is thrilled to finally be purchasing her family’s homestead, even if she won’t be the owner in deed for another four years. Having automatically cast all Sullivans in the same mould, it takes a bit of adjustment for Shelby to see AJ for who he truly is, but although their acquaintance does get off to a rocky start (and if you’ve read the novel, that pun was fully intended!) I appreciated that the author didn’t drag out this point of tension unnecessarily.
As she begins to restore Misty Willow to the home of her memories, Shelby inadvertently disturbs more than just the layers of dust that have gathered over the years. AJ’s cousins, Brett and Amy, have their own plans for Misty Willow, and are quite prepared to trample all over Shelby’s in the process. Then there’s Shelby’s Great Uncle Richard, who gradually reveals a history between the Sullivans and the Lassiters that is much more complicated than AJ or Shelby ever realised. And as AJ begins to acknowledge the pull Shelby has on his heart, he realises he has a matter from his own past to make right before he can consider her place in his future. Unfortunately, confronting his past may have just closed the door on a future with Shelby for good.
AJ and Shelby were both likable, mature, but human characters, genuinely seeking God’s guidance in their lives. There was also an interesting array of secondary characters who gave the novel a well-rounded cast, not least of whom were Shelby’s daughters, Elizabeth and Tabby, along with AJ’s cousin Brett and Shelby’s Great Uncle Richard, both of whose viewpoints appear in the novel.
I feel a little disloyal to AJ for saying so, since this really is his story (and he’s such a nice guy), but in some ways I found Brett the most intriguing character in this novel. (I hasten to add that I was never undecided as to who was the right man for Shelby!) He’s a hard-nosed businessman who knows how to play the ladies (and efficiently discard them when he’s finished), but we also begin to see through the cracks in the façade to the emptiness behind as this story progresses. In some ways he is an antagonist to both AJ and Shelby, and yet I felt a certain amount of sympathy towards him as well, so kudos to Johnnie Alexander for effectively portraying such a complex character.
Two things did temper my enjoyment of this novel slightly. The first is that I guessed fairly early on how the situation from AJ’s past would resolve, and it felt a little clichéd in some respects. Secondly, while I do prefer to find out backstory during the natural course of the novel (rather than getting an info dump early on), in this case I found myself getting a little muddled trying to keep the relationships straight in my head and integrate the details as they emerged. I also began to suspect the biggest reveal about the two families’ histories a little sooner than I would have liked.
Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable read, and the fact that the next book in the series will be Brett’s story means that I am eagerly anticipating Johnnie Alexander’s next release.
Thank you to Revell Books for providing a complimentary copy of this book in return for my honest review.
Release date: 5 January 2016
Publisher: Revell Books
Author’s website: http://johnnie-alexander.com/