Allie Pierce and Delaney Marsh are both orphans. At ten years old, Allie still remembers the love of her sweet mother, but ever since she passed on, Allie has been living in an orphanage. In contrast, fifteen-year-old Delaney lived the life of a street urchin who ended up in prison, after his drunken father, a hard-hitting newspaper reporter, was murdered for getting too close to the truth while writing a story. Hardened by the streets, Delaney doesn't think he needs anyone and has big ambitions for his life. Getting too close to another person could derail those plans. But on the difficult trip west on the orphan train, little Allie worms her way into his heart with her sweet ways and the solace she takes from Delaney's religious medal. He doesn't really believe in The Lady depicted on it, but it's the only thing he has left of his father.
These two lost souls understand each other like no one else does, and they end up forging a new life together with an adoptive family, always looking out for one another. But each of them has a contentious relationship with one or more members of their new family, which sometimes makes life there difficult. As they grow up, Allie and Delaney's love for one another grows and changes too, until a youthful indiscretion leads to unintended consequences. Delaney still struggles with feelings of unworthiness, so when Allie refuses to follow him to Chicago so that he can realize his dream, he believes she no longer loves him. Caught between her love for Delaney and her sense of obligation to her adoptive family, Allie chooses to stay behind for the time being. The sometimes subtle and sometimes overt machinations of their family members lead to misunderstandings for these star-crossed lovers that separate them for an extended period of time, sending them both into the arms of others. Can Allie and Delaney ever find it in their hearts to forgive one another, and will they find their way back to each other and the love they once shared that now seems like a lifetime ago?
Wings of a Dove marks the first time I've read a book by Elaine Barbieri, a rather prolific author, I discovered, who's been published in the romance genre for over thirty years. It's an epic tale that spans fourteen years in the lives of our hero and heroine, starting with their trip west on an orphan train when he's fifteen and she's just ten. They become inseparable friends, brought together by a religious medal that connects Delaney to his past and his father's memory and that Allie believes has spiritual power. They come to rely on each other and understand each other in a way others don't, and when they are older, they realize they're in love, but circumstances and misunderstandings separate them for a time before they finally find their way back to one another. This was also, I believe, the first time I've read a story centering around the orphan trains, which got it off to an interesting start. I also enjoyed the spiritual aspect, as well as the friends to lovers trope, which is a favorite of mine. Where the story kind of faltered a bit for me was in the execution of the conflicts, which I sometimes felt were overdone to the point of being somewhat oppressive. But overall, I enjoyed the book in spite of what, IMHO, was slight misstep.
As I said, Allie is ten years old when the story opens. She never knew her father, but she remembers her kind and gentle mother, who died, leaving her alone in the world, which of course is how she ended up on the orphan train. When she sees Delaney's medal, it strikes a chord with her, because of her mother's Irish Catholic faith. Allie has complete faith in The Lady depicted on the medal and believes she brought her and Delaney together. Delaney becomes Allie's reluctant protector, earning her loyalty and trust, so much so that she won't go with the family who wants to adopt her unless they take Delaney too. She's a girl with a big heart and a lot of love to give, so she's easy for everyone to love in return, except for their adopted sister, Sarah, who's spitefully jealous of her. Over the years, as Allie grows up, her trust in Delaney never wavers, even when tested time and again by Sarah, who wants Delaney for herself and who will stop at nothing to tear them apart. That's why when Sarah finally succeeds in driving a wedge between them, it was a little difficult for me to swallow. Granted, I suppose, that no one could be that positive for that long without ever having a single doubt about someone, and Delaney had recently shaken Allie's faith in him by his actions. But still she knew what a liar Sarah had been in the past, so I couldn't fully fathom why she would take Sarah's word without ever really questioning it. Overall, I liked Allie and found her to be a strong and admirable little girl who grew up into an equally strong and admirable young woman, but some decisions she made toward the end of the story and her unwillingness to even talk with Delaney about what was bothering her left me feeling frustrated.
At fifteen, Delaney had already been living on the streets for a while. Prior to that, it had been just him and his father, a famed journalist, whom Delaney idolized despite the man's penchant for drinking. His father wrote hard-hitting pieces that challenged powerful men, who eventually had him permanently silenced, leaving Delaney on his own. He quickly learned he had to fight for everything, including respect, and although we don't know specifically why, he ended up in prison from where he was plucked by the children's welfare organization that took the orphans west. Delaney was grateful for the opportunity and intended to make the most of it, creating a better life and a future for himself. He didn't think there was any room in it for friends until a little blond-haired girl wormed her way into his frozen heart. Even at a young age, Delaney was a young man filled with ambitions and a deep sense of purpose. I admired his determination to do whatever he must to reach his goals. He was a hard worker and for someone so young, he had a pretty good grip on his self-control, never giving in to Sarah's seductive nature. Sometimes he seemed almost a little too cold and hardened for my taste, but I did like the contrast between how he is toward others and how he is around Allie. Even though he fights his connection with her from the start, he's a much nicer and softer person when she's around, and he trusts her in a way he doesn't trust anyone else. Unfortunately, no one in the family but Allie fully trusted Delaney either, and even she faltered when it mattered the most. Eventually, after many years of working at it, he learns to unlock his emotions and that they don't make him weak, but instead, make him a stronger, more well-rounded person. Through his determination, he reaches his goals, becoming a self-make man and following in his father's footsteps but doing so in a more controlled manner.
The most prominent secondary characters in Wings of a Dove are the Case family who adopt Allie and Delaney. The mother, Margaret, is broken-hearted after losing her youngest daughter to a fever. She contracted the same illness, but survived. However, it left her in frail health. She's a kind-hearted woman, who always treats Allie and Delaney like her own children. Allie becomes a blessing to her, and though she loves Delaney too, she sees the bitterness and ambition inside him and doesn't believe he can ever love anyone, including Allie, which leads to some turbulence for our lovebirds. The father, Jacob, is a hard but generally fair man. He doesn't really trust Delaney, although he does treat him decently. Their son, James, is the oldest, and he resents Delaney from the moment he lays eyes on him. This never changes throughout the story. James always thinks of Delaney as the untrustworthy prison boy, who isn't good enough for the likes of Allie, especially after he starts having feelings for her himself. However, it's only Delaney that he irrationally hates. With Allie and his family, James is a good and kind man. That's why it was a little difficult to have him be the third wheel in the romance. I felt like he deserved someone who could love him fully, whereas a piece of Allie's heart was always with Delaney. Then there was Sarah, the Case's daughter. She's a vain, selfish girl, who causes no end of trouble for Allie and Delaney right up until the end.
As I mentioned before, I felt like there is too much conflict in the story. I'll grudgingly admit that it kept me reading, because I just couldn't help wanting to know how Allie and Delaney would get their HEA, considering all that happens between them. But ultimately, it felt much like a soap opera in which conflicts were being manufactured one after the other to keep the story moving. It was actually giving me anxiety at a couple of points, especially when I turned a page right after Allie and Delaney experience a painful separation, only to find that the date had progressed by eight years. My heart just plummeted knowing that they'd moved on in their lives with others during those years and lost all that precious time they could have been together if not for their respective pride, stubbornness, and misunderstandings. When they finally reunited, I felt better about it, because admittedly during their time apart, they'd both matured and Delaney had realized his dream. But there's still a lot standing in their way. I correctly predicted how the biggest of those obstacles would be taken out of the equation, but even then, Allie stubbornly refuses to open up to Delaney about the way in which she believes he betrayed their love in the past. This meant that the nonsense (or at least that's how I viewed it :-)) continued to keep them apart right up until literally the very last page of the book. Until then, I was considering giving the book keeper status, but that was just too much for me to take. I need at least a few pages or preferably a chapter or two of happiness to be convinced of that all-important HEA ending.
Otherwise, I did enjoy Wings of a Dove. Aside from a couple of frustrating flaws in their thinking, I very much liked Allie and Delaney. The writing itself is very good, making me feel like I'd been transported to the Michigan frontier and later to the bustling city of Chicago during the late 1800s. I also think the author did a good job of differentiating between Allie and Delaney's feelings in their relationship with one another and their relationships with other characters in the story, which showed just how special their connection truly was. If not for the ridiculous amount of conflict that started veering into melodrama territory, this might have been a perfect read for me. But as is, it was still pretty good and kept me engaged and entertained. It may have been my first read by Elaine Barbieri, but it was good enough to make me interested in checking out some of her other work. I'll just have to hope that she tones down the drama a little in her other stories.
Friends Before Lovers
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