Ever since the death of her parents Frankie Moorehouse has been struggling to look after her younger sister and elderly grandmother, while trying to keep the family's Bed & Breakfast afloat. The old Victorian home, which was converted into the White Caps B & B is literally falling down around her ears, and the bills are racking up faster than she can make the money to pay them. Then her chef walks out on her with no notice, leaving her scrambling to make dinner for her guests. When she burns the meal and has hungry patrons breathing down her neck, Frankie is certain all is lost until a handsome stranger comes breezing into her kitchen and saves the day.
Nate Walker is a talented chef who has worked in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, but he's the black sheep of his wealthy family. Disinherited for choosing cooking over his father's demands that he go into law or politics, Nate has worked hard for every penny he's earned. Now he wants to reinvest the money he's saved into a restaurant of his own. On his way to Montreal to meet a friend and look at a property, Nate's car breaks down in the Adirondack Mountains near Saranac Lake. After hiking a couple of miles, he comes upon White Caps and walks into a kitchen enveloped in chaos. Recognizing the desperate need for his skills, he jumps into action, but despite him saving her from a sticky situation, it's obvious that the prickly owner doesn't like having her authority usurped. With money still tight, Nate knows he's going to need a summer job to get by, so when he discovers that Frankie is in need of a full-time chef, he offers his expertise through Labor Day. All too soon, he also finds himself falling for his pretty new boss and intrigued by the challenge she presents, but after suffering a broken heart years ago and with the massive weight of responsibilities on her shoulders, will Frankie be willing to take a chance on a guy who's only promised her the summer?
Who would have thought that Jessica Bird (aka the incomparable J. R. Ward) could write a book less than half the length of her Black Dagger Brotherhood books that is still a lovely and satisfying story? Well, that's exactly what she accomplished in Beauty and the Black Sheep. The heroine runs a Bed & Breakfast out of her family's old Victorian home on Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. I certainly couldn't have asked for a more beautiful setting, and it's there, over a summer, that love blooms between her and her unexpected new chef. I was very pleasantly surprised - although perhaps not too much so - to find this book was an engaging read that was every bit as enjoyable as Ms. Bird's longer books that I've read.
Frankie is an incredibly responsible woman who has shouldered the burden of taking care of her family ever since her parents both drowned in a vicious storm on the lake. At the time, her younger sister, Joy was still in high school, so Frankie not only became a parent to her, but also a caretaker to her elderly grandmother who has dementia, as well as taking up the running of the family's B & B. Despite her lack of formal training, she's very competent at her job, but the old house is literally falling down around her ears, then her chef quits out of the blue on Fourth of July weekend. She's pretty much up a creek without a paddle until Nate shows up at her door. Initially, Frankie is somewhat miffed at having her space invaded by a stranger even if he is undeniably handsome and did save her bacon. Frankie is used to being in control and giving all the orders, so when Nate swoops in and takes over, it makes her a little prickly toward him at first. At the same time though, she's very vulnerable and can't deny how good it would feel to have someone help share her burden. I love Frankie for her plain Jane looks. She wears glasses and baggy clothes and has ordinary brown hair that is a bit mussed up. She thinks of Joy as being the beauty in the family, while she's just plain old Frankie, so it's a little hard for her to fathom why Nate is interested in her. After being badly hurt by a former flame and with so much on her plate, she institutes a hand-off policy with Nate, but soon finds it hard to resist his charm and persistence. Occasionally she jumps to the wrong conclusions about him, but she's always quick to apologize if she's wrong. Frankie is a well-rounded heroine who loves her family and is dedicated to her business, and even though it scares her to death, she makes room in heart for Nate as well.
Nate came from a wealthy family, but was disinherited when he chose to become a chef instead of doing what his father wanted and going into law or politics. He's made a name for himself in the culinary world, but what he really wants is to start a restaurant of his own, where he can be the boss in the kitchen. He and his friend have been looking for a place to buy, but haven't found anything in their price range yet. He's headed to Montreal to check out a potential prospect, when his car breaks down in a rural area of upstate New York. He ends up at White Caps, Frankie's B & B, where it's obvious that they're having a kitchen emergency. I love Nate's take charge attitude in the kitchen. He has a talent for giving rapid-fire orders, while still making everyone feel needed and appreciated. He just instinctively knows how to handle each person in Frankie's life in exactly the right way. Physically, Nate is pretty much like the men of the BDB, very tall and muscular, with dark good looks. I adore him for falling for the plain girl over her gorgeous sister and making her feel like a princess. He has a strong personality that makes him want to take charge, but he understands Frankie's reluctance at first, and is patient enough to humor her. In addition to his culinary skills, he's pretty handy with household tools. A chef and a handyman? Where can I sign up for a Nate of my own?;-) What I liked most about Nate is that he truly wants to share Frankie's load and lets her lean on him when things get really rough. Nate thought he didn't want a wife and kids, but the right woman coming into his life, really made him change his tune.
For such a short book, I was surprised to see that Ms. Bird managed to fit in a few short POV scenes for other characters. This was great, because it really whetted my appetite for their upcoming stories. Joy has a sweet air of innocence about her. She's great with her grandmother, having a wonderfully calming influence on her when she's particularly agitated. She's had a crush on Grayson Bennett for years and lives for the times when he comes to visit the area each year. Little does she know that Gray has noticed her too and been having some naughty thoughts about her. These two become the hero and heroine of the next book, His Comfort and Joy aka The Player. We also get a few glimpses of Frankie and Joy's brother, Alex, who comes home to recuperate after a horrific boating accident that killed his sailing partner, and it appears he has a lot more than broken bones to mend. He'll become the hero of the third book, From the First. Nate also has a few phone conversations with his best friend and business partner, Spike, who becomes the hero of the fourth book, A Man in a Million.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty and the Black Sheep. I just love how Jessica Bird can create exquisite sexual tension between her couples with smoldering looks and the barest of touches. I was also impressed with how well she was able to build her characterizations in such a short space. I always felt like I fully understood them and their motivations. Honestly there's really nothing I would have changed about the book, so the only reason I knocked off a half-star is because a few of the earlier chapters seemed to lag a little. During those times, I wasn't quite as stoked to get back to it as I normally would be with a five-star read, but otherwise, it was a perfect and sweet, little story.
Beauty and the Black Sheep was originally published as part of the Silhouette Special Edition line, but was recently republished as a stand-alone book that was retitled, The Rebel. No matter what title it goes by, this is the first book in The Moorehouse Legacy. This series basically dovetails right off of Ms. Bird's An Irresistible Bachelor, in which both Nate and Gray played prominent roles. It's an excellent start to this new-to-me series, and I can't wait to read Gray and Joy's story soon.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook