Freya Daly’s life is completely under control. Well, okay, there’s this bizarre ocular issue that from time to time causes her to produce fluid that looks like tears and that none of the idiot doctors she’s been to can diagnose or treat, but otherwise everything’s going according to plan. Oh, and her father is reconsidering promoting her to take over his real estate business, which is how it is that she’s in this tiny little Idaho town. But Freya will prove to her father that she has what it takes to succeed, and no camp site-owning hot guy inexplicably unwilling to sell, even at the weirdly over-market price her father’s oddly prepared to pay, will stand in her way.
Chef Nate Brody is an honourable man – he stood by his girlfriend when she got pregnant, took sole custody of their daughter when his wife took off, and he’s not about to break the deathbed promise he made to his father. Breaking promises is the kind of thing his father did, and Nate is nothing like his father. All his decisions are made with an eye to the best interests of his ten-year-old daughter, Piper, and the last thing she needs is to get attached to a substitute mother figure, however hot she might be.
Reminiscent of Crusie or Phillips, Lani’s characters live on the page. She avoids the more common romance obstacles in favour of a strong mystery plot – before he can sell up, Nate has to find a mysterious object, hidden by his father. For Nate it’s a relatively light-hearted task, though not without a degree of urgency, as his restaurant is in need of attention in his absence. There are others, though, for whom the object has greater significance, and the reader becomes aware of threats to Freya and Piper that the main characters know nothing about.
Mix that with a plotline about Piper’s mother, the pain of mother-loss she and Freya share, a magical Irish wishing coin, frustrated parent/child relationships across the board, and a tension between duty and self interest, and this is an above average novel.
It was clear from early in that With You Were Here, a title whose relevance to the plot I didn’t quite get, continues a storyline from another of Rich’s novels, which I found at the end is Crazy in Love, the story of Freya’s younger sister. Although I think reading that first would have added a layer to my experience of Wish You Were Here, this book stood on its own. I did enjoy it enough that I’ll see what else my library has by Rich, though. And there are a couple of author blurbs at the end of the book – the period romance How to Seduce a Sinner by Hoyt and the possibly Brockmann-like Too Far Gone by Marliss Melton – that also sounded interesting. – Alex