Annie Sweetwater was born with a defect in her hip that causes a severe limp. Even though she can walk, she's spent most of her life confined to a wheelchair by her over-protective family who treat her like a china doll that might break at the slightest provocation. As a child, all she wanted to do was play with the other kids but was never allowed. The only time she ever felt normal was the day of her tenth birthday party when Luke, a new boy in town, gave her a ride on his horse. Annie has never forgotten his kindness, but to her parents and brother, he's the pariah who could have caused harm to their daughter and sister. Now an adult, Annie still longs to be normal but doesn't believe that will ever happen for her. When Luke, now the handsomest young man in town, begins to show a romantic interest in her, Annie can scarcely believe that he genuinely wants her.
Luke Carpenter never saw Annie as disabled. All he's ever seen is a beautiful young lady who intrigues him. Without really realizing it, he's spent the last ten years working hard to build his business in hopes of being worthy of his Sweet Annie. He's willing to risk everything to be with her, even the wrath of her family. Luke romances Annie in secret and even builds her a house with the intention of marrying her when it's finished. He just didn't count on Annie's family, especially her mother, being so difficult to win over, even after they can see that Annie is capable of far more than they've ever allowed her to do. Luke and Annie must defy them in order to be together, but when tragedy strikes, will their love be enough to overcome Annie's lifetime of emotional pain and feelings of inadequacy?
Sweet Annie would be a perfect book to be turned into a Hallmark Channel movie. It's an incredibly sweet, tender story filled with very human emotions that really tug at the heartstrings. Annie's family could be very frustrating in the way they coddle her when all she wants is to be normal. I think that in general their hearts were in the right place, but their over-protectiveness and control of her, especially on her mother's part, was emotionally abusive, which is evidenced in Annie's lack of self-confidence even after she's experienced Luke's unconditional love and encouragement. At least her uncle, aunt, and cousin, Charmaine, treat her like a capable human being, but it's Luke who truly believes in her and shows her a whole new world she never knew existed.
Annie was born with a birth defect in her hip that causes her to walk with a pronounced limp. However, her parents never really allowed her to walk, always keeping her confined to a wheelchair. All she ever wanted was to do the things other children were doing, but her parents wouldn't let her. Then on her tenth birthday, Luke, a new boy in town, comes to her birthday party with his uncle. He doesn't ignore her or see her as incapable like the others do and offers to take her for a ride on his horse. Annie eagerly accepts and has never felt so free, but it leads to heartache for her when Luke gets beat up by her brother and her parents banish him from their house and Annie's life. She never forgot that day or Luke. She's seen him around town on occasion but never had the opportunity to talk with him again until ten years later when she and her cousin go to his new livery and Luke asks them both out for ice cream. I adored Annie and thought she was a wonderful heroine. All she wants is to be treated like a normal girl, but her family has always viewed her as a delicate china doll that will break at the slightest little thing. They've treated her that way so long, they've beaten her down emotionally. She can't imagine why a man as handsome and perfect as Luke would want a crippled young woman like her, but it doesn't stop her from lighting up like a firefly when he's around and reveling in his attentions. She's somewhat afraid to get involved with him, though, because she doesn't want her brother or father to beat Luke up again for coming near her. I admired her courage in sneaking out of the house to see Luke, when she knows her parents wouldn't approve, but most especially for eventually standing up to them and letting them know exactly what she wants in life.
I love how, from the start, Luke never saw Annie as being crippled. He only sees a lovely young woman who intrigues him and stirs his emotions and desires. It's really sweet how he only has eyes for her, even though her cousin flirts with him, thinking she's the one he wants at first. Luke is a smart, hard-working young man who saved up his money to build his own livery business, because he knew that Annie's father, the only banker in town, wouldn't give him a loan. Luke is just the sweetest most perfect hero ever. He isn't afraid of Annie's family or of standing up to them if he has to. I adore how he always encourages Annie to do what she wants to do as long as it won't cause her any pain or harm. He's a very responsible young man who wants to build a house for Annie and make sure that he can fully provide for her and any children they might have before marrying her, even though she's eager enough to be with him to not care where they live. I love how he's completely focused on Annie and on bringing her joy and happiness. Luke is tender and loving, a totally dreamy hero I'd love to have in real life.
I have a feeling that some readers may find the tragic event toward the end of the book too melodramatic. I didn't, but it did make my heart ache for this sweet couple who'd fought so hard to be together and shared so much happiness up to that point. It was also a little disappointing and difficult to see both of them seemingly giving up on their love, but when I really stopped to consider it, the author had stayed true to their characterizations. Both Luke and Annie are highly sensitive people who take their perceived failures deeply to heart. Also everything Annie had feared might happen, mostly fears that had been instilled in her by her mother, as well as her mother's constant reminders that she was basically a handicapped invalid incapable of living a normal life, had actually occurred, like a prophecy fulfilled. Not to mention, I'm sure a form of clinical depression was probably involved as well, leaving Annie feeling like a complete failure. Luke didn't fare much better, feeling that he'd been careless and negligent in his care of Annie. They certainly could have communicated better during that bleak time, but what's important is that Luke and Annie learned something from their mistakes and found their way back to each other and to the happiness that only each of them could bring into the other's life. It also gave Annie's family a chance to do the right thing for a change and talk some sense into her.
Every time I read a book by a new-to-me author, I never know what to expect. Even if the cover blurb sounds great, it isn't always as good as I think it will be, but that was definitely not the case here. Sweet Annie was everything I could have hoped for in a romance and more. I loved Luke and Annie. They're two sweet, wonderful people who make a perfect couple. I liked many of the secondary characters too, especially Annie's cousin, Charmaine. I had hoped she might be the heroine of the next book in the Copper Creek Brides series, but that doesn't seem to be the case. While some readers may find this story too sweet, it was just right for me. I had such a great experience reading this book that I honestly don't mind who the next hero and heroine are as long it's as good as this one was. I very much look forward to continuing the series and checking out some of Cheryl St. John's other books. Sweet Annie was originally published in the Harlequin Historical romance line, but was later reprinted in the special Harlequin Close to Home series of reissued favorites.
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