As young lovers, Elias Santiago and Sarah Greenwood were cruelly torn apart by a long-standing feud between their families. Even as teenagers, they wanted nothing more than to marry and have a happy life together, but their families' hatred for one another all but destroyed their love. Now over a decade later, after traveling the globe as a fashion photographer, Sarah has returned home to New Mexico feeling empty and searching for inner peace. On her first day back in town, she chances to meet none other than the former love of her life.
Over the years, Elias has made a name for himself and a small fortune for his family in the herbal tea business. All this time, he has been nursing a need for revenge not only against Sarah's family, but also Sarah herself. Seeing her again stirs up deep feelings he thought long gone. The couple are rather unwillingly thrown together by Elias' niece, and as they help her to fulfill her dreams of becoming a model, they come to the realization that their love for one another never died, it was merely put on hold. Elias and Sarah may still be madly in love, but before they can share a future together, they must overcome the pain of the past and find a way to heal the rift between their families.
Meant to Be Married is a Romeo & Juliet style story of forbidden love. Instead of the Montagues and the Capulets, we have the Santiagos and the Greenwoods who have been embroiled in a bitter, blood feud for 150 years which has led to death and shattered lives on both sides for many generations. Teenage lovers Elias Santiago and Sarah Greenwood were caught in the middle over a decade ago, when her father cruelly betrayed them both, causing even more hatred directed at the Greenwoods from Elias' family. Sadly, the whole feud was steeped in racism and lies. It really distresses me to think about how some parents can pass down hatred from one generation to the next until it becomes second nature and no one even considers why they are still hating, they just do. In some ways it was difficult to read about, because it's simply so heartbreaking. At the same time though, it is also part of what made the book so wonderful and gave it such depth. In the end, it took Sarah's courage and determination to expose the truth of the past in hopes of affecting change for everyone's future. It was also a story of compromise, both sides meeting halfway and admitting wrongs done. The ending was a decidedly happy one, but I liked that there were no magical transformations or pat answers. Both Sarah and Elias had to admit that it would be a long and difficult road ahead to a full reconciliation between the families, if that ever happened, but they were able to make enough inroads to live peacefully for the rest of their lives. It was all a beautiful story of the power of love and forgiveness winning out over hatred and vengeance.
Elias and Sarah were two amazing characters who had lost so much in their lives, but had also gained things that they might not have if things had gone the way they had planned twelve years earlier. I like that when they were teenagers, they tried to do the mature and right thing even though they weren't rewarded for it. In many ways, they behaved far better and in a more grown up way than the adults in their lives. Eli grew into a resolute young entrepreneur who made a name and a fortune for his family through a tea business that he had envisioned as a teenager. However, when he lost Sarah, he became an embittered shell of his former self, living to seek revenge against Sarah and her family. When Sarah came back to town, he could think of nothing else, but when he was in her presence, he found, to his dismay, that his emotions went much deeper. Each time he was with her, a little of his anger began to fade until he started to understand how badly she had suffered too. Sarah also enjoyed success as a famous fashion photographer who had traveled around the world, but never found anyplace that felt like home. Feeling drained and empty, she returns to Taos, New Mexico to help her mother care for her ailing father and hopefully find restoration. She has learned how to shut away the past and keep her emotions bottled up, and is terribly frightened to discover that in order to be whole again, she must face the very things that scare her the most, one of which is her feelings for Elias. Sarah and Elias were a fabulous hero and heroine whose love had never died and who were completely realistic and genuine.
Meant to Be Married is a short novel of less than 250 pages, but it packs a huge emotional punch. It is loaded with themes that many romance readers, including myself, love: a controversial inter-racial relationship, a tempestuous but tender reunion romance, forbidden love which Ruth Wind (aka Barbara Samuel/O'Neal) always writes so very well, a thirst for revenge, and all this while exhibiting a thoughtful complexity that left me in awe and pondering it all very deeply. The story grabbed me right from the prologue and never let go, leaving me with tears welling in my eyes on more than one occasion. The emotional tension between Eli and Sarah as they try to work through their anger and figure out what they still mean to each other is stunning, sometimes so thick it could be cut with a knife. The sexual tension is absolutely exquisite with the author creating an electrifying connection with the simplest of things such as a smoldering look or the barest of touches. The love scenes themselves were not particularly detailed, but they certainly didn't lack for fiery passion while also being sweet and loving. Ruth Wind is extremely talented at painting vivid, beautiful word pictures to describe her settings and her character's emotions, making it very easy to tell that she is an artist herself. She just makes me want to immerse myself in her richly sumptuous prose. Meant to Be Married won a Rita award in 1999, and it's very easy to see why. This little hidden gem is long out of print, but in my opinion, is without a doubt, worth the search for a used copy. Meant to Be Married is the first and from what I can tell, the only other book in Ruth Wind's Men of the Land multi-line series. The second was a Silhouette Intimate Moments titled, Rio Grande Wedding. There are no character or plot connections between the two books, but they both feature rugged Hispanic heroes who love the land and a forbidden inter-racial romance.
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