Sara Winchester became the child bride of Nathan St. James fourteen years ago. It was a union commanded by the king in an effort to put to rest an age-old feud between their families. Ever since then, Sara has been patiently biding her time, dreaming of the day that Nathan returns for her and she's built him up in her mind to be the perfect Prince Charming of her fantasies. When her beloved aunt is kidnapped and held hostage by an unscrupulous uncle, Sara sends word asking for Nathan's help freeing her. When he arrives, he's much larger and more untamed than she imagined, but in spite of him being gruff and arrogant, she finds him to be quite handsome and lovable. Charmingly innocent, she knows nothing of the ways of love, but he awakens her to a passion she never thought possible. But Sara is a walking calamity, bringing all sorts of disasters upon Nathan's ship, leaving his crew members thinking she's nothing but bad luck. However, her loyalty to their captain eventually wins over the crew, but can she win Nathan's stubborn heart?
For several years, Nathan has been living the life of the notorious pirate known as Pagan, but with his pirate persona becoming increasingly dangerous to maintain, he's decided to become a respectable businessman. However, he's in need of funds to get a legitimate shipping company off the ground. As part of the contract for his marriage to Sara, he was promised a large sum of money and a tract of land once he claimed her as his true bride and produced an heir. He never received Sara's missive about her aunt but has decided to finally honor the contract for the money, and when he locates her, he finds her bravely rescuing the old woman and standing up to her uncle. In spite of her courage, though, she's sorely in need of help, which Nathan willingly provides before taking her to his ship. She's far more attractive than he'd imagined she would be, and he can scarcely keep his hands off her. She proves to be both vexing and amusing all rolled into one, and she offers her love to Nathan freely, something he's never experienced before. However, a past bad experience with a woman makes him reluctant to fully open his heart to Sara, but when he nearly loses her to her family's scheming conspiracy, he can no longer ignore his own deep love for her.
I've been a fan of Julie Garwood now for over twenty-five years. She came recommended to me by my mother-in-law, who is also a romance fan, and she was one of the first mainstream historical romance authors I tried. I remember reading The Gift way back when I was discovering her work. It was probably one of the first Garwood books I tried, but all I really remembered about it is that I'd liked it and that there was some high-seas adventure in it. At the time I first read it, though, I didn't realize it was the third book of a series, so I only more recently read the first two. The Gift, however, is my favorite of the Crown's Spies series so far and quite possibly my favorite of this author's books that I've read at this point, too. It's about Nathan St. James and Sara Winchester, who were married as children, a command that was handed down by King George III, himself, as a way to bring peace between their families who've been at odds since the medieval era. Nathan was only fourteen at the time, and Sara was a mere four years old. Their wedding is shown in the prologue and their first meeting is adorably sweet with little Sara placing her full trust in Nathan even then. Since then, they've lived separate lives, but Sara has dreamed of the day that Nathan will come to whisk her away. Needing the money that fulfilling the marriage contract will eventually bring him, Nathan finally shows up fourteen years later, intending to collect his bride and do just that, but with no designs on falling in love. However, Sara confounds him at every turn with her sweet, generous spirit and annoys the hell out of him when she brings one calamity after another upon his ship. But soon, he can no longer imagine his life without her, even though the word "love" isn't exactly in his vocabulary. This book was a delightful reread that turned out to be equal parts sweet, sexy, and LOL funny.
Sara is a naive, idealistic dreamer who usually has her head in the clouds. She's also a hopeless romantic who has built up the husband she hasn't seen since their wedding day into the perfect fairy tale prince. When her uncle and his brothers try to have her beloved Aunt Nora, who is the black sheep of the family for marrying far beneath her station, committed to an asylum in order to steal her money, Sara writes, asking for Nathan's help. What she doesn't know, though, is that her missives went astray, so when he doesn't come, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Sneaking out late at night, she walks the few blocks to her uncle's town house where she believes Nora is being held captive and frees her, but little does she know that her husband coincidentally showed up anyway and protected her all along the way. When she goes to a tavern to confront her uncle and get Nora's wedding ring back, then she finally meets her huge, handsome spouse, who once again saves her and takes her aboard his ship. At first, she's a little afraid of him, but she gradually comes to realize that he'd never hurt her even though he frequently bellows at her for the wacky things that she does. Sara is one of the sweetest, most innocent and guileless heroines I believe I've ever read. She's also a walking calamity who nearly destroys Nathan's ship on more than one occasion, even driving his crew to wear garlic to ward off the bad luck she brings. But underneath it all, she has a genuinely good heart. She comes to deeply love and have absolute trust in Nathan pretty quickly, and once she does, she's loyal to a fault, defending him even when he irritates her. She's quite protective of those she loves and that comes to include Nathan. She's extremely shy on their "wedding night," but once sexually awakened, she becomes a very responsive lover and is quite demonstrative of her love in more ways than one.
Nathan lost his parents at a young age and became responsible for his younger sister, Jade, who found her HEA in the previous book, Guardian Angel. Although a marquess, he's spent most of the intervening years since marrying Sara as a pirate and spy for the crown. With the bounty on his pirate persona growing larger by the day, he decides it's time to go straight and start a legitimate shipping company with his best friend, Colin. In order to build it up, though, he needs more money, but he lost much of what he owned when both of his homes fell victim to arson. The marriage contract includes a gift of land and gold after Nathan has spent one year living as husband and wife with Sara and producing an heir, so he decides to finally go claim her. Most of the Winchester women are plain and plump, and the clan in general are pretty ill-tempered, so he doesn't expect much, leaving him pleasantly surprised to discover that Sara is quite comely and pretty sweet-tempered, if a bit stubborn. Even though she seems to cause one catastrophe after another that tries his patience, he knows that she isn't doing it deliberately, and her frequent tears and heartfelt apologies make it impossible for him to stay mad at her for long. Although he doesn't recognize his emotions as love, the kind and gentle way he always treats her and his growing inability to imagine life without her make his feelings abundantly clear even if it takes him a while to admit it both to himself and to her. Even though Nathan can play the growly alpha, he never annoyed me. I loved him to pieces and found him nearly as amusing as Sara.
I can hardly express how much fun I had rereading The Gift. Even though I had vague recollections of enjoying it before, this revisit exceeded my expectations. I'm very particular about rom-coms, often finding them too shallow or not as humorous as they're supposed to be, but this one tickled my funny bone just right. I think I spent the entire time I read it with a goofy grin on my face, if not outright laughing. It's a little slap-sticky, but it totally worked for me. I can't recall when I've read a more hilarious book. Yet, interspersed with all the fun and games was a sweet, tender love story that gave me all the feels that I expect in a romance. It was completely apparent from their adorable first meeting in the prologue that these two were star-crossed loves meant for each other. I love Sara's complete faith and trust in Nathan even when he stubbornly refuses to tell her he loves her. Nathan may be a little rough around the edges, but he has a good heart, expressing his love in his own sweet way, through his kindness, gentleness, and protectiveness. I enjoyed the secondary romance between Nora and Matthew, one of Nathan's seamen. There were plenty of other supporting characters to liven things up as well, including Caine and Jade (Guardian Angel) and Colin, who will become the hero of the next book, Castles. This series may have gotten off to a slow start for me, but after this charming and entertaining entry, I'm now looking forward to finishing it off soon, while hoping that Colin's story will be equally as diverting as this one was.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook