Millionaire rancher Ryan Kendrick was fuming when he entered the local family-owed ranch supply store looking for the tractor parts that had not yet been delivered. At the parts counter, a lovely young woman with a beautiful smile assisted him while engaging in sassy, flirtatious banter. Her vivacious personality immediately improved Ryan's mood, and by the time he was ready to leave, Ryan had the strange feeling that he had just met his soulmate. He didn't even make it to the door before going back to ask Bethany Coulter out for dinner and dancing. Unfortunately, his invitation caused the smile on her face to drop, forcing Ryan to turn on every ounce of charm he possessed. Finally Bethany simply pushed away from the counter, leaving Ryan with the shocked realization that she was sitting in a wheelchair. He was temporarily taken aback but quickly regained his composure, continuing to charm his way through, and just wouldn't take no for an answer. Bethany finally relented, setting a date for the end of the week, but she fully expected him to cancel before then.
Friday night arrived to see Bethany uncharacteristically excited about seeing Ryan again. Unfortunately, one of Ryan's mares went into labor and he was unable to reach Bethany by phone, leaving her in tears, thinking that he had stood her up. When Ryan finally arrived more than thirty minutes late, Bethany tried to right herself, but the telltale signs of crying were still visible on her face, making Ryan feel terrible. Right away he told her what had happened, and she was surprisingly understanding. None of his past dates had ever been so solicitous about playing second fiddle to an animal. They finally went ahead with their planned date which included an impromptu surprise for Bethany. They both had a wonderful time, finding much in common with each other, and the date ended with a passionate kiss in Bethany's foyer that left them both shaken by it's intensity. Knowing that Bethany was not a woman he could trifle with and not risk breaking her heart, Ryan pulled away from the kiss, but was shocked and baffled moments later when Bethany all but threw him out of her house.
A past relationship that ended in a painful betrayal and a doctor who had told her that she would likely never have normal sexual relations or bear children, have left Bethany fearful of becoming intimately involved with anyone. Ryan's kiss left her with an intense feeling of embarrassment over her wanton reaction to him and afraid to take their relationship any further. When Ryan calls the next day to express his interest in continuing to see her, Bethany tries to blow him off by saying that her calendar is full. Ryan intuitively knows what's going on, so instead of pushing her over the phone, he makes a surprise visit to her house later that evening with an apology and an offer of friendship. He hopes this will make her feel more secure and comfortable about continuing their relationship, but Bethany is still uncertain. An unexpected meeting at a rancher's association dinner/dance and a freak snowstorm that left Bethany stranded in her van in the ditch, gave Ryan the perfect opportunities he'd been waiting for to show his mettle. By the time the snowstorm ended, Ryan had Bethany hooked, and they started spending almost every evening together. While Ryan played a gentle and subtle game of seduction as Bethany's “friend”, he was putting his money to good use remodeling his entire ranch to make it handicapped accessible, with the intention of proposing. While Ryan had definitely ratcheted up Bethany's sexual tension, she still believed they were only friends. When she accidentally finds out all the wonderful things he has been doing for her at his ranch, her old fears come into play, leaving her feeling frightened and vulnerable. It will take every bit of patience Ryan possesses to convince his lady that he is madly in love with her and committed for the long haul, no matter what happens, and that they truly can have a future together where all their dreams can come true.
Phantom Waltz is a slow, sweet love story that expresses true love in it's purest form, a selfless giving of two people to each other in every way. Except for a couple of incidents, there isn't much action to speak of. Most of the conflict revolves around overcoming the heroine's disability and her emotions surrounding it, just good old-fashioned character driven romance. I must say that Catherine Anderson is masterful at character development, creating both primary and secondary characters that are easy to like and care about. There were lots of incredibly romantic moments, such as Ryan and Bethany's first date and kiss, Ryan arranging for them to dance, and their private exchange of vows in the wilderness to name a few. There were also a few laugh-out-loud funny moments, my favorite of which was their flirtatious exchange at her family's ranch supply store, when Ryan was looking for his “missing parts”. You have to read it to see what I'm talking about, but it had me rolling on the floor. Also Bethany's cat who makes friends with Ryan's bull is a hoot. Although, there were parts in the story where Ryan and Bethany could have communicated better, I was generally impressed with their openness with one another and with their families, often talking freely about subjects that would make many people cringe with embarrassment. I like stories in which the main characters are friends before becoming romantically involved, so it was very enjoyable to read about the building of Ryan and Bethany's friendship. One of Ms. Anderson's trademarks that I really like is that her characters aren't perfect and they make mistakes in their relationships, but they usually seem to learn a valuable lesson and gain self-insight in the process. It makes for a lot of character growth throughout the book which is something I enjoy immensely in story-telling. Other than one incident involving Bethany near the end of the book which I have detailed below, I found the character growth in this story to be satisfying.
I couldn't help but adore all the Kendrick men, Ryan, his brother, Rafe (Baby Love) and their father, Keefe. They all seem to fall hard, love fiercely, and protect their women with a vengeance, just the way I like my heroes. Both Ryan and Rafe were willing to lay down their lives for the women they loved which I find incredibly romantic. I liked the way that Catherine Anderson created love and romance in this story not just for the young, but also the young at heart. I thought it was really sweet that Keefe and Ann Kendrick were still madly in love and enjoying a healthy sex life after some thirty odd years of marriage. It was also adorable that the hardened ranch foreman, Sly, had fallen in love with Maggie's mother, Helen (Baby Love). Even though Bethany's parents played a smaller part in the story, they also had been married for many years and had a committed, loving relationship.
Bethany was a very interesting heroine. I had never read a heroine who was a paraplegic before, and I have to give Ms. Anderson kudos for writing a character who was so unique. I came away from reading this story feeling like I had learned something about paraplegia and had been given at least a small sense of what a person who is confined to a wheelchair must feel like. It was an eye opening experience, and I love any story that is intelligent enough to teach me something new. Bethany had a great personality too, a wonderful mix of shy, sweet innocence and sass gained from being the only girl growing up with five older brothers. Although she at times felt imprisoned by her wheelchair, she still had a certain zest for life which was understandably irresistible to Ryan. Even though I found Bethany to be a likable character, there were a couple of things about her than bothered me a bit. One was that I felt she was a little too tense, and took too long in my opinion, to simply let go and enjoy the attention that Ryan was lavishing on her and to realize that for him, seeing her happy made him happy too. There was also a part where Bethany was talking to virtual strangers about her sex life, in an attempt to figure out how to please Ryan, when I thought that she should have been communicating with him directly. While the whole scenario created both some amusement and some conflict which brought interest to the story, I just felt like a little more openness and honesty between them might have been in order. Eventually it happened, but just not quite soon enough to suit me. In addition, her reaction at the end of the book to a major crisis kind of frustrated me. I had thought by that time she had finally released her fears and reservations about their relationship and had accepted that she was not a burden to Ryan, so when she did an abrupt about face, it really took me by surprise. Even though there was a part of me that understood that Bethany thought she was doing this for selfless reasons, one could definitely make a strong case that there can be a fine line between selfless and selfish, and it seemed to me that her decision was made more out of fear than love. I just really like stories in which love overcomes everything including fear, which eventually it did, but I would have preferred that it had taken a different path to get there. The book still had a happy ending though, and all's well that ends well, I suppose.
Ryan was an incredibly wonderful and dreamy hero who was completely accepting of Bethany's disability, always seeing the person and not just the wheelchair. He surprised her from the first day they met, and the surprises never seemed to end. Even though he wasn't 100% honest about his future intentions toward her, I thought it was very sweet how Ryan backed off on any kind of physical interactions, including kissing, in order to build a loving friendship with Bethany first. From there he completely wowed her into accepting his proposal by creating solutions to any and all arguments she might make against marriage and treating her like a princess. He was incredibly kind and patient with her always, but especially as they explored her fears and concerns over her possible sexual inadequacies due to her disability. Ryan was very creative, using pure ingenuity to come up with all sorts of ideas and inventions to make Bethany's life easier and more fulfilling, and most of all restoring the freedom she had craved since her accident. Best of all he put his life on the line for her, which is something I couldn't imagine any woman being able to resist.
Phantom Waltz is the second book in Catherine Anderson's Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. Readers get to visit with Rafe and Maggie and some of the secondary characters from Baby Love, the first book, and see where they are a couple of years later. We also get a good introduction to Bethany's brother, Jake, who becomes the hero of the third book, Sweet Nothings. Bethany's other four brothers are also mentioned and each of them gets their own book as well. The remaining books in the series in order are Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed and Morning Light, with the next installment, Star Bright, due out early next year. While there were a few things about Phantom Waltz that I thought could have been better, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a sweet and gentle story full of truly romantic scenes. At this point, I have read and enjoyed enough of Ms. Anderson's books that she has definitely earned a place on my favorite authors list.
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