Chloe Evans moved to the little community of Jack Pine, Oregon to escape a painful past and to give her young son, Jeremy, a normal life. Everything is going well, until her son's new puppy is sickened with parvo, and she can't afford the vet fees to save his life. Having heard about Ben Longtree, the mysterious man up on the ridge who used to be a vet, a desperate Jeremy takes his puppy to the man without his mom's permission, hoping for a miracle. The locals have warned Chloe to stay away from Ben. Frightened by the stories she's been told about him practicing witchcraft and having murdered a man, she fears for her son's life and immediately gives chase. What she finds there, at first, scares her even more, but as she sees how kind Ben has been with her son and how gentle he is with the puppy, she begins to wonder if the stories are true.
Ben is used to being the subject of town gossip. Trying to hide a rare gift that no one would understand, he lives in self-imposed isolation high up on the ridge with only his frail mother who is prone to bouts of extreme absentmindedness for company. Employing his veterinarian skills, he's been trying to heal wild animals who've been shot and mysteriously come to him for help. At first, he resents the intrusion of the little boy and his mother, but he soon discovers he could no sooner turn them away than he could make the sun not shine. Chloe's warmth and courage speak to a part of himself he thought long dead, but after living through the pain of the past, he isn't sure if he can let her into his life in the way she wants him to. On top of that, a demented shooter who wounds animals for sport is on the loose, and Chloe is dealing with the unwanted advances of one of the deputies at her job. Can he keep her safe long enough to find healing in her touch for his battered soul?
Only by Your Touch is a little different than Catherine Anderson's other books I've read to date, because it contains a touch of the paranormal. I'd probably be more inclined to call it magical realism though, because it melds seamlessly into the real world setting of the story and is accepted by those closest to the hero, namely the heroine and his mother. Others, however, tend to view him, at best, as a rather odd duck, and at worst, they're so afraid of him as to spread vicious rumors. I loved this part of the story and found Ben's gift for healing to be very unique and appealing. I can't recall ever reading about a character who has this type of ability, and most especially not in a story that isn't firmly rooted in the paranormal sub-genre. On the flip side, Ms. Anderson is known for often adding a little suspense to her stories and this was one of them. One of the deputies from the sheriff's office where Chloe initially works begins harassing her, and it eventually gets more and more intense. At the same time, someone is shooting innocent wild animals on Ben's land. I considered the suspense to be lighter in that this part of the story is more predictable than most full-fledged romantic suspense novels. It's fairly obvious early on who the antagonist is going to be and that never changes. The only mystery left to unravel is why he's doing it. Even that gradually becomes pretty easy to discern, so there were no real surprises there for me. All in all though, Only by Your Touch was a very enjoyable read.
I can never seem to resist a sexy Native American hero, so I adored Ben in more ways than one. He's only ¼ Shoshone, but he looks full-blooded except for his blue eyes, and he fully embraces his Native American heritage. Part of that heritage includes the mystical healing ability that he inherited from his medicine man ancestor. Not only can he heal both humans and animals, but he also has a gift with animals. In fact, he's a regular Dr. Doolittle. The animals come to him when they're hurt or in pain and he can communicate with them on some level. The most vicious wild animals become tame as pussy cats when he's around, and they often come back to visit him after he's healed them. Ben hasn't always embraced his gift though. Harsh events from his past made him abandon the use of it for a long time, but he chose to become a veterinarian so that he wouldn't entirely be abandoning the animals. People simply don't understand his gift, so they make up wild stories about him being a witch and a murderer. He's also dealing with the fall-out of an abusive father who made his childhood miserable and an ex-wife who didn't understand him and was frightened of his ability. Because of these things, Ben doesn't trust people easily and is very much a loner, but at the same time, he's very lonely with only an ailing mother with dementia to keep him company in his big rambling house high up on the ridge. That all changes the day a desperate little boy brings his sick puppy to Ben asking for help, closely followed by his frantic mom, who Ben is more attracted to than any woman he's ever met. Despite never having any children, he's great with little Jeremy. He's an amazing son too, taking wonderful care of his sick mother. Best of all, he's very sweet with Chloe and protective of her. There's an underlying kindness and gentleness about him that is nothing like what most of the townspeople believe about him.
Chloe has her own share of bad experiences in the past. Like many of Catherine Anderson's heroines, she has experienced abuse, in her case, at the hands of her ex-husband. However, the circumstances of that abuse are pretty unique. Because of that, it took a lot of strength and fortitude on her part to leave a man she still cared about, but who was no longer the man with whom she'd fallen love. I think she did the right thing for both herself and her son though, and Chloe is an awesome mother. She works hard to make a living but still finds time to spend with Jeremy. She would also protect him with her life. She's still pretty skittish around men, so when she has to go retrieve her son from Ben's house and sees not only how big Ben is, but also the menagerie of animals surrounding him, including a mountain lion and a wolf he keeps as pets, she's understandably frightened, but still showed an admirable amount of backbone. From the beginning though, Ben intrigues her and stirs her desires, so I was glad to see that it didn't take long for her to recognize him for the good man that he was and stop believing the town gossip. Chloe also becomes equally as enthralled by all the animals as Jeremy is, which is something Ben has been missing in a partner. The only thing that gave me pause about Chloe is my frustration over what I felt were some poor decisions she made concerning Bobby Lee's behavior. I had a feeling they'd come back to bite her and they definitely did. I'll stop short of calling it TSTL, but several of her choices did seem rather foolish at the time. I realize though, that sometimes when a person is in that stressful of a situation, it can be difficult to think straight. She was also having trouble trusting Ben because he wasn't yet trusting her, but I can't help thinking that if she'd told Ben what was going on sooner, he might have been able to take better precautions to protect her. Given the good-ol'-boy's club that the sheriff's office seemed to be and the fact that Bobby Lee had it in for Ben, I suppose he probably would have found some other way to stir up trouble anyway, so I'm mostly giving Chloe a pass. It's certainly not her fault that a man chose to assault her, but I did still think she should have pressed charges right from the start. Of course, then there wouldn't have been much of a story.:-) I also have to admit that I really liked the way Chloe came into her own and stood up for herself (and Ben) in the end.
It's obvious right from the start that Ben and Chloe are quite attracted to one another, but they both play it very close to the vest for quite a while. Even after they kiss for the first time, they still hold back a lot. There is one scene where they share an extremely passionate kiss that seems like it's going to turn into a whole lot more and Chloe is totally into it. Then Ben pulls back, thinking he's pushing her too fast, but rather than saying that she's into it and wants it, Chloe completely shuts down. I know she was a little hurt by him stopping, but when couples don't communicate like this, it makes me more than a little frustrated. IMHO, they held back both their feelings and their trust a little too long, which led to some difficulties that could have been avoided. For me, trust is everything in a romantic relationship, so them having trust issues was very difficult to read. When they do finally get there and start opening up to each other, especially Ben, it was a very beautiful thing. It was also easier for me to forgive at that point, because it made more sense, but in the moment, it could be rather aggravating.
Aside from those moments when a solution to a problem seemed obvious and wasn't being pursued or the times when Ben and Chloe were refusing to open up to one another, which were the only reasons I knocked off the half star, I really enjoyed Only by Your Touch. Ben and Chloe were a perfect match and were really good for one another. Chloe's little son, Jeremy was as cute as a button and behaves very age-appropriately. Like his mom, he doesn't trust men easily, but with Ben it's different. He really looks up to the man and was very brave to approach Ben about caring for his puppy. As an animal lover, my favorite part of the story was the animals. Methuselah was just a huge kitty cat, and Diablo was admirably protective of Ben and those he loved. Then there were all the wild animals Ben was trying to heal of their wounds. Each and every one of them was a joy to read. I don't think I've read a book with this many animal characters in a long while, if ever, so that was a real treat. Ben's healing ability truly was an amazing gift and very easy to accept as being possible. I would certainly recommend Only by Your Touch to anyone who likes small-town contemporaries, Native American themes, animals, or a touch of magic in their romance reading.
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