When her beloved husband dies in Iraq, Cynthia Jenks is left completely alone in the world. In the midst of deep despair, she goes to the Hope River Bridge contemplating suicide. Just as she is about to jump, her husband's spirit appears to her, imploring her to reconsider and to open her heart to the possibility of loving someone again. Horrified by the idea, she runs away from him and right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
After getting off work in the wee hours of the morning, Major Mike Spencer feels strangely compelled to take a different route home that takes him right by the Hope River Bridge. He narrowly misses hitting a woman who came from out of nowhere, but she trips, striking her head on his bumper and knocking herself unconscious. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, the ghostly apparition of a man appears asking Mike to take care of his wife. Mike knows the pain of loosing a spouse, so when he realizes that the beautiful woman was thinking of taking her own life, has no family, and will need to vacate base housing within the month anyway, he offers her a place to stay in exchange for taking care of his daughter. Being in such close proximity on a daily basis, brings out romantic feelings that neither one had expected, but will Cyn's newfound sense of independence keep them apart and will she be able to accept the idea of a relationship with another man who is in the military along with the inherent responsibilities that come with his job?
Bridge of Hope was an e-book novella that was a decent read considering its short length, but I couldn't help feeling like it could have been better if it had been a bit longer and a few things had been different. I had somehow gotten the impression from the synopsis that the hero had a connection to the heroine's dead husband, perhaps was even his commanding officer, but that wasn't really the case. Mike only knew Peter in passing, because Peter had taken a training course with him before deploying to Iraq. In this case, I think that some sort of friendship or other relationship would have made the premise of the story a little more believable. I kind of had a hard time with the idea of a guy taking in a woman who was a complete stranger and entrusting her with the care of his young daughter when she had nearly attempted suicide and could potentially be emotionally unstable. Knowing of the military culture in which they tend to take care of their own and the fact that Mike had lost his own wife and understood Cynthia's grief, I decided to try to go with the flow. It did get a little easier to buy into it as their relationship progressed. The author stretched the story out over several months which helped to make the idea of them developing feelings for one another believable, but I still wish it had been a little longer to more fully flesh out the characters and plot.
Mike was a really good and likable guy to take care of a woman he didn't even know when she had nowhere else to turn. He was also an attentive and caring father to his eight-year-old daughter, Katy. As I already mentioned, Mike had experienced the pain of loosing a spouse and so was probably in a better position than most people to help Cyn through her own grief. He was also generally the voice of reason, guiding Cyn through several stubborn spots on her road to recovery.
Unfortunately, it was that stubbornness and tendency to flip-flop that kept me from fully liking Cyn. I could relate to her sense of loneliness and deep despair after her husband was killed in Iraq, and have to say that the author rendered those parts quite well, really making me feel her pain. I also liked that she became a kind and reliable mother figure to Katy. I could relate to Cyn's fear of change as well, but her antagonistic attitude about nearly everything started to grate after a while. In my opinion, it just made her seem constantly combative. Even when she realized that a particular change wasn't quite so bad after all, she would still fight the next one tooth and nail. She also seemed rather fickle to put Mike off because of her desire to find her independence and stand on her own two feet rather than getting into another unhealthy relationship, but then practically threw herself at him after one bad date with another man. I never really understood why she needed to date anyone else, since she obviously cared for Mike. It just seemed like an unnecessary plot device to conveniently bring them together. Ultimately, Cyn was an OK character who had her good points, but just wasn't always easy for me to understand.
There were also a few other things which kept Bridge of Hope from being the stellar read I had been hoping for. First, I don't mind some politics in my romance novels as long as it is kept on reasonably neutral ground, but when party affiliations start being bandied about and the author seems to be toeing a certain party line while demonizing the other side, that's where I start to check out. Thankfully, this was just one scene, but any kind of heavy rhetoric in a novel is not romantic to me in the least. Although I'm not a big fan of ghost stories, I thought that the idea of the ghost of the heroine's husband bringing the hero and heroine together seemed kind of romantic and different, which in a way it was, but there was also something a bit off about it. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but maybe it was that Mike and Cyn seemed a little too accepting of talking to a dead man. Additionally, the one and only love scene in the entire story had no real spark to it. After Cyn's bad date, Mike had stopped things from going any further between them, saying that their first time together should be special, but then when it happened the very next night, it was over and done with so fast, the reader could blink and almost miss it. That didn't seem very "special" to me, and I really felt there needed to be a lot more building of sexual tension leading up to it. Lastly, one other minor thing that kept throwing me out of the story momentarily were several abrupt scene or point-of-view changes. There were no page breaks or any warning, just a quick transition that occurred from one paragraph to the next, which in my opinion, interrupted the flow of the narrative. Overall, Bridge of Hope wasn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours of my time in spite of my issues with it. This novella was certainly more readable than some stories I've tried, and good enough that I might be open to giving Pam Champagne another chance to wow me in the future.
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