Hardened rancher Ridge Bowman has long told himself he has no need for love; just work and his little girl are enough to get him through. But when his cleaning lady, Sarah Whitmore, gets injured on his staircase, well, of course he has to invite her to spend the holidays with him. It's only the responsible thing to do.
Only, Sarah isn't really there to work on his house. She came bearing precious artwork belonging to Ridge's late mother, and possibly a secret that could devastate them both. But as Christmas draws closer, so does Ridge and Sarah convinces herself that she will tell him what she knows as soon as the holiday is over. She might be the key to his past if only he could be a part of her future.
The Cold Creek series by this author has embraced several families in this small out-of-the-way part of the Northwest and the latest stories have returned to the Bowman family, one that has been gifted with great love but continues to be decimated by the unsolved murders of their parents. This novel takes up right where the previous book ends, with Ridge, the oldest of the brothers and keeper of the family ranch, left with the wedding and reception mess. His sister has arranged for a cleaning service to come in and restore order. It is that expectation that causes Ridge to assume that Sarah Whitman is at his door for that very purpose. Little does he realize that she is the bearer of gifts in the form of one of their favorite paintings done by their now-deceased mother and one that had been stolen in the home invasion robbery/murder eleven years ago.
This is a novel about a man who has tasted the bitterness of romantic disappointment but who has experienced deep love and enrichment in the relationship he enjoys with his young daughter. Yet Ridge is lonely--lonely and fearful all at the same time. He tried once and his daughter's mother hated the ranch and eventually hated him. She walked away from their daughter without a backward glance when the baby was only a few months old. Little wonder that he is not even remotely contemplating the possibility of any kind of love relationship in his future other than possibly a brief fling.
This novel is also the story of a young woman who has only recently discovered that her mob-boss dad, a man long estranged from her and her mother, has left his messes for her to clean up after his recent death and who discovers that her brother (murdered himself only a few days after the robbery/murder at the Bowman ranch) was one of the thieves. How does she bring back the family paintings that are so treasured? How does she even face Ridge and all his siblings with the pain and sorrow they have harbored, knowing that their anger and hurt will be focused on her? As novels go, this is a significant crisis and one that is woven throughout the story, complicating the growing attachment between Ridge and Sarah as Sarah recuperates from her injuries sustained from a fall down a flight of stairs. Of course I think we know there will be a HEA but how it all comes to a head and is resolved makes for darn good reading and once again solidified my contention that Ms Thayne is one of those writers that is simply too good a writer to be believed. Her characters live to the extent that they almost jump off the page with the raw edge of reality mixed in with the deep feelings that make her stories so intense.
This was a delightful read and one that I hope you'll make a point of reading for yourself. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.