Five years ago, Kaitlyn Emberland was brutally raped. Her attacker left her with forty-two scars that are a constant reminder of what happened. Unable to handle her fears, her fiancé left her a few months after the rape at a time when she needed him the most. Kaitlyn can't bear the thought of a man touching her much less making love to one. As a result, she has resigned herself to spending the rest of her life alone, but fate has other plans in store for her. At her sister's wedding, Kaitlyn meets her new brother-in-law's boss, Marc Campbell. He's a charming man who Kaitlyn immediately likes, but she has no intention of pursuing a relationship she believes will never work.
Marc fell in love at first sight with the beautiful Kaitlyn, and after a great deal of cajoling finally gets her to agree to go out with him. Every time he tries to touch or kiss her though, she shuts him down immediately. Marc suspects someone hurt her in the past, but his wildest imaginings, couldn't have prepared him for the reality of what really happened to her. When she finally opens up to him about the rape, he's horrified, but he loves her enough to wait until she's ready to take things further. The only problem is that Kaitlyn's fears are so deep-seated, she refuses to even try at first. Gently, Marc coaxes her to accept and gradually enjoy his touch, by patiently getting her used to one thing before progressing to something else. At first Marc is certain he can eventually get her to enjoy making love again, but as month's pass by with Kaitlyn still terrified of the act, he begins to lose hope. Will Kaitlyn ever find a way to completely overcome her fears or will it mean the end of the first truly beautiful and loving relationship she's ever had?
I can't recall for sure where I first heard about Tender Persuasion, but I think it might have been a few years back when I was still active on the Amazon discussion boards. If I remember correctly, it was a thread in which someone was asking for romance titles with the theme of a heroine overcoming rape, and this book was recommended by another person on the discussion. I thought it sounded very interesting, so I immediately added it to my TBR list. Fast forward about five years, and during that time, I heard nothing more about it from anyone else, even though I joined GoodReads and have been obsessively sharing book ideas. In fact, there aren't even any ratings or reviews for Tender Persuasion on either GoodReads (I guess mine will have the honor of being the first) or Amazon, even though it was first published over a decade ago, which leads me to believe that it's a book few have even heard about. It was always still there in the back of my mind to read it, and this month, I decided to try to get my hands on a copy to finally check it out. Unfortunately, the only way I could get one was by purchasing it. After being burned one too many times, I don't normally pay full price for an untried author, but I decided to take a chance. All I can say it that I was very glad I did. It definitely did not disappoint, and I'm thrilled about that one person years ago recommending it. It's certainly a hidden gem of a romance, and I wouldn't hesitate to pass on the recommendation to anyone who likes heartrendingly emotional stories of true and lasting love.
Tender Persuasion is far more than a mere romance though. It is based on the true story of a woman who the author personally knows. This woman, who is known as Kaitlyn in the story, was brutally raped multiple times and in multiple ways over the course of the eight hours she spent with her attacker. The monster also cut her forty-two times, leaving her with an equal amount of scars all over her body. The fact that she even survived is a miracle and a testament to this woman's courage and determination. However, her scars went far deeper than just the surface. She was so mired in fear that I don't think she even recognized the depth of her own inner strength. Much like soldiers who can't bring themselves to speak of their experiences during wartime, Kaitlyn was unable to talk to anyone in more than a cursory way about what happened to her. As a result, despite having a loving family, she was mostly alone in her pain, until Marc, the man of her dreams, came along. Kaitlyn's sister, Billie, described her as having been a loving, passionate woman before the rape, but after, that part of her got buried. She may have survived, but she's not really been living. Unfortunately, her fiancé didn't know how to deal with that and left her three months after the rape. Throughout the five years since then, Kaitlyn has avoided men like the plague. She's too afraid to initiate any kind of a relationship with a man, because she understandably can't bear the thought of being touched by any man, much less making love to one. Until Marc, she'd resigned herself to a celibate life alone, but he refuses to allow her to hide herself away.
When Marc shows up in the story, he's pretty much every woman's dream man, and it's easy to see why Kaitlyn eventually gave into his charms. He does have to push her a bit, but it was obviously necessary in order for him to convince her to go out with him. Otherwise, she probably wouldn't have given him a chance. Dating him gives her a opportunity to get to know what kind of man he is and to see that he's a gentleman, which helped to begin building that all important trust in their relationship. Even before he knows about the rape, Marc is incredibly understanding and patient with Kaitlyn when she doesn't want to be touched or kissed. He sensed from the beginning that someone had hurt her, but his initial speculation didn't even come close to the reality of what happened. Once she finally tells him about the rape, he doesn't run the other way like she fully expects. Instead, his kindness and patience continues only with a different focus. He gently pushes her bit by bit to face her fears, and exhibits a quiet confidence that she can eventually overcome them, if she'll just let him help her. Every time she doubts herself, he's there determinedly saying it will happen... someday. He simply refuses to give up on her and has faith in her ability to start living a normal life again. Each time Kaitlyn reveals some new detail about what happened to her, Marc sometimes doubts his own ability to handle the horror of it all, but he finally realizes that Kaitlyn is the one who experienced it first-hand, and if she could live through it, he certainly can too. When he started trying to get Kaitlyn to allow him to touch her more intimately, I loved the sweet litany of things he said to her each time, things like: "I love you," "I'm not going to hurt you," "If it's more than you can handle, just tell me to stop," or "I just want to love you." He's always true to his word too, never trying to go further than she's willing and gradually getting her used to one thing before going a little bit further. That's not to say Marc is perfect though. In fact, there were a couple of times he did things that made me want to slap him silly, but I think that these foibles helped to show he was a real person. Just like most people, he had a breaking point that he'd finally reached. As more and more time passes, and it seems like they're making little progress, Marc starts to get frustrated with Kaitlyn at times, especially when he feels like she's not trying. He also gets angry, although initially he's more angry at the situation than at her. However, that anger eventually begins to bubble over until they have a huge fight about making love. At this point, Marc's faith wavers and he begins to believe it's never going to happen. I may not have agreed with a couple of the things Marc did to try to alleviate his frustrations, but strangely enough, I still understood where he was coming from. He wasn't Superman. He was just an ordinary guy with feelings and passions of his own that weren't being met. Despite a few missteps, overall, I felt that Marc was an incredible man who completely and utterly devoted himself to Kaitlyn. He loved her unconditionally when she had a hard time loving herself which is difficult for any person to do, and ultimately, that love won out over the pain of her past.
Readers who are easily frustrated might have a hard time with this book. I think perhaps because it's based on a true story, it does feel more real than perhaps your average romance does. Most romance novels focus on building a romanticized version of love that often forgets the day to day struggles, and Kaitlyn and Marc, without a doubt, have a tremendous struggle on their hands that goes far above and beyond what the average couple has to face. When Kaitlyn first meets Marc, she has a very warped sense of a man's desires and truly believes that his penis is nothing more than a weapon to be used to dominate and degrade a woman. Marc definitely has his work cut out for him right from the start. Her fears are so deep-seated and incredibly intense as to feel insurmountable, and quite frankly that's what she thinks. Many times, Kaitlyn utters the phrase, "I can't," which might leave impatient readers exasperated with her, but I think it's necessary to convey the level of patience Marc had to exhibit to help her overcome her fears. At the same time, she's incredibly stubborn which sometimes works against her, but which I think was ultimately responsible, not only for her surviving the attack in the first place, but for her finally conquering her fears and going far beyond anything she or those who love her ever dreamed possible for her.
I loved Kaitlyn's family. They are all very supportive of her and understanding of how the rape affected her. Because they want the best for her, they see the same thing Marc sees: that she's been living half a life. They desperately want her to be able to love someone, and they all love Marc and see him as her best chance for happiness. Sometimes, I think they see how much he loves and adores her when she doesn't fully comprehend it. I particularly liked her dad. As the only man Kaitlyn will allow near her, I felt he was in a unique position to help her, and he does more than once. First, I had to give him major points for respecting Kaitlyn's privacy and not revealing everything to Marc, even though Marc asked him a point blank question about what happened to her after she finally dropped the bombshell on him that she was raped but didn't give him any details. Her dad simply said that Marc would have to ask her about that, because it was her call on how much to reveal and when. I couldn't help thinking, "Yes, finally an author who doesn't allow a secondary character to reveal personal things about a main character." This phenomena in romance nearly always disappoints and frustrates me, because all I see is a missed opportunity for emotional intimacy between the hero and heroine. I also loved the little talk Kaitlyn's dad had with her, gently encouraging her to go stay with Marc at his cabin and give him a chance to prove himself, even though it was awkward for him, since he was basically giving his blessing, knowing they were most likely going to become intimate. It was like he knew what she needed and what was best for her even though she didn't.
Overall, Tender Persuasion was a wonderful book, but despite my five-star rating, it wasn't 100% perfect. The first few chapters were lacking introspection, which somewhat stunted the emotion I was expecting to feel right out of the gate. However, looking at it in hindsight, perhaps this was a stroke of genius, because it did play into the sense of Kaitlyn being closed off from the world as a whole and men in particular. Without a doubt, it does improve as the relationship develops. That being the case, I'd say that the most noticeable weakness is the author's penchant for repetition. There was an overabundance of shrugging, sighing and a few other character actions that needed a good edit. Normally, I would knock off a half-star for small but slightly annoying deficiencies like this, but Tender Persuasion kept me so engaged and was such an utterly beautiful story of true, deep, and lasting love in its purest form, that I was able to overlook its minor shortcomings and couldn't help giving it the full five. Knowing that a real-life couple actually lived out these events and found their HEA too only made it that much more inspiring and compelling. This story certainly took me on a roller-coater ride of emotions, but it was so completely worth it. I cannot recommend this book highly enough and will definitely be checking out Jean Hackensmith's other work.
Note: As a warning to sensitive readers, this book contains some fairly graphic flashback, dream sequences of events that occurred during the rape. They're usually no more than a page or two long, but the brutality of it can evoke some very intense emotions.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook