Jacob Sauder renounced his Amish heritage when his mother died and his brother, Simon, told him at the funeral that the woman Jacob loved had agreed to marry Simon. Jacob went out into the "English" world and tried to adapt, but nothing he did ever seemed like quite the right fit for him. Then he discovered that a brief dalliance with an "English" woman three years earlier had resulted in twins whose mother died in childbirth. Jacob wants more than anything to be the best father he possibly can be, but the only way he knows how to raise children is the Amish way. He knows it will be difficult to see the love of his life married to his brother, but for his children, he is willing to do anything. He just didn't know how difficult it would be until he returned, the prodigal son, and had to spend every day near the woman he's never been able to forget.
Rachel Zook never loved Simon the way she loved Jacob, but when Jacob left their Amish community, she thought that he had abandoned her. Unaware that Simon had woven a web of lies to ensure he would be the one to marry her and believing Jacob would never return, she eventually agreed to be Simon's wife. However, his cruelty began almost the minute their vows were said, and when she proved to be barren, his hatred and abuse of her only worsened. Rachel is surprised when Jacob returns with two small children in tow. She knows that there can be nothing between them, but Jacob's twins need a mother. Longing for a child of her own, Rachel is more than happy to care for them. That's all she intends to do, until one night, when Simon's abuse becomes particularly unbearable and Jacob offers his comfort. Then neither of them can deny the desire that still burns between them. But how can they ever truly be together when she's married to another and what will happen if he discovers their indiscretion?
For a while, I've been drawn to Amish historical romance and have managed to amass quite a few on my TBR pile. However, I hadn't yet gotten around to reading one. This might be because most are put out by Christian publishers, and while I do enjoy inspirational romances sometimes, I also find that many of them can be rather preachy, which is a turn-off for me. That's why, when I saw that a mainstream author had published a few Amish historicals, I thought those might be a good place to start. Therefore, I chose Annette Blair's Thee, I Love as my first Amish romance, and it ended up being an excellent choice that I loved.
However, this is where I'm going to digress for a moment to give fair warning to readers that this isn't the typical, presumably squeaky clean, Amish romance that you'll usually see. I personally think that made it all the more interesting, but I know others will disagree. It contains some mild language, scenes of moderate violence, and three mild to moderately descriptive love scenes that I would characterize as having sensual (though not particularly explicit) language. However, what will probably be most concerning to readers of traditional Christian Amish romance is that the hero and heroine of this story do cheat on her husband/his brother, with much of the plot dependent on this misstep. That said, though, I wasn't at all put off by it, because there are many extenuating circumstances. For starters, her husband lied to both of them to deliberately keep them apart three years earlier and then presented himself as someone he wasn't in order to get her to marry him. He then began abusing her from the moment their vows were said, and of course, given the time period and their religious beliefs, it was impossible for her to divorce him. Not to mention, the hero and heroine's actions aren't without consequences as they do have to answer for it later in the story. So now that I've gotten that little order of business out of the way, on to why I loved this book so much.
Jacob is a total sweetheart of a hero and I completely fell in love with him. He'd been best friends with Rachel all throughout their childhood and teen years. They fell in love, he gave her her first kiss, and it was always presumed that they would someday marry. Then his mother died, and during that difficult time, his brother, Simon, lied about Rachel being in love with and planning to marry him instead. This sent Jacob running out in the English world where he tried to make a go of it, but things just weren't working out for him. He also had a number of brief affairs with women along the way, and when he discovered that one of those encounters had resulted in twins whose mother had died in childbirth, he immediately stepped up to the plate to take care of them. Jacob loves his newfound children to distraction and is an incredible father, but the only way he knows to raise children is the Amish way. So he humbles himself as the prodigal son returning home. He knows it's going to be hard to go back and watch Rachel with Simon every day, but he doesn't know just how hard until he's there. All the love he's always felt for her is still there in his heart, and he finds it nearly impossible to hide it, especially when he realizes that Simon is abusing Rachel. One night when the abuse becomes particularly harsh, Jacob comforts Rachel, with one thing leading to another.
Jacob is a wonderful hero. The way he looks out for Rachel, making sure that Simon won't ever abuse her again, when others around them were turning a blind eye, is nothing short of amazing. I also love how he supports her in her efforts to publish a newspaper for their little Amish community and he's a tender lover to her, which is something she desperately needed after all she'd been through. He's a responsible father who takes great care of his kids. He may have a protective streak, but Jacob is definitely a sweet beta hero. He tries to take full responsibility for everything that happened between him and Rachel, and he really takes it to heart when things begin to unravel for them. In the end, he's ready to sacrifice everything to make sure that Rachel and his kids can have the Amish life he thinks they need. Although parts of the story ripped my heart out, I loved Jacob to pieces for all of his kindness, gentleness, sacrifice, and care of those he loves.
Rachel is an equally kind and sweet heroine. When Jacob left, she thought he'd abandoned her, not knowing that Simon had driven him away with his lies. Simon courted her, eventually leading to her developing feelings for him, but they were never as strong as what she'd felt for Jacob. When Simon began verbally abusing her the very night their vows were said, she knew she'd made a horrible mistake, but there was nothing she could do about it except endure. Rachel is the school teacher in their community, a job she loves because she loves children. However, she hasn't yet been able to conceive one of her own, which is another thing that Simon regularly berates her for. When Jacob returns and realizes what Simon is doing, it's something of a relief to her. She also falls in love with his twins and they feel the same about her, so when he asks her to leave her teaching position to take care of them full-time, she's more than happy to comply. On the night that she and Jacob make love for the first time, she finds it impossible to resist. All the years of pent up love for him, combined with never experiencing a man being kind and gentle toward her, are just too much emotionally. Soon after, she discovers that she's finally carrying the child she's longed for, but it's a mixed blessing. I loved Rachel for being so committed to family and she proves to be a great mother in her care of Jacob's children. She pushes the boundaries of a traditional Amish woman's role by publishing her newspaper, which I thought was great. Despite the way her husband treats her and the fact that he destroyed any feelings she had for him on their wedding night, she does still forgive him and have concerns for his well-being. She feels the guilt of her infidelity as deeply as Jacob does, even though she can't say that she regrets it. I felt like Rachel showed strength and fortitude, mingled with kindness and goodness that made her the perfect heroine.
There are a number of notable secondary characters who really fill out the cast of Thee, I Love. First are Jacob's twins, Emma and Aaron, who are cute as a button and help show Jacob and Rachel's excellent parenting skills. Aaron, in particular, loves with an innocent kind of love only a child can. He genuinely cares about his Unkabear, wriggling his way into Simon's hard heart and showing that the man isn't entirely evil. Rachel's sister, Esther, and Jacob's best friend, Reuben, get a secondary romance, while offering unwavering support to Rachel and Jacob. Esther is a pregnant widow, while Reuben is twice widowed, both of his wives having died in childbirth, so he's understandably very fearful of any woman who's expecting, especially when her time comes. Both Rachel's and Jacob's fathers show that they can be kind and reasonable men, even though there are some things that are outside their control, and both offer penance for not recognizing Simon's abuse of Rachel sooner. Atlee, an elderly gentleman in their community offers to sell Rachel his old printing press and gives back to her and Jacob in a whole lot of other ways as well. Then there's Simon, who is a pretty miserable human being. Much of his animosity is rooted in jealousy and covetousness. He always felt that Jacob was the favored son, and therefore he wanted everything Jacob had, including Rachel, whom he'd lusted after for a long time. Other reasons come out later on, which speak of a religious fanaticism and an inability to take responsibility for his own choices, always blaming someone else for his own failings. Sadly Simon never does see the error of his ways, instead becoming more mentally unstable as the story progresses. The only bright spot for him is Aaron, who manages to get under his skin enough to draw a little bit of caring out of him.
Overall, Thee, I Love was a really beautiful story with an even more beautiful ending that really tugs on the heartstrings. I was kept guessing right up until the final pages just how Jacob and Rachel could possibly have an HEA, and it definitely didn't disappoint. Jacob and Rachel's love is unbreakable, and it's abundantly apparent that they were meant to be together if only Simon hadn't interfered, leading to so much heartache for everyone involved. Both of them express a great deal of sorrow over the hurt they caused Simon, which I think was necessary to show what kind and truly good people they are in spite of their missteps. But at the same time, I felt like Simon brought much of it on himself by being the first to act inappropriately. In this way, the book is very much a study in the individual choices we make and how those choices can often affect those around us in both positive and negative ways. The author also does a great job of keeping the suspense high throughout, making me wonder more than once if things were going to go the way I was hoping or not. For the record, it did, but there was plenty of angst, drama, and emotion in getting there. I can't express how much I loved this story. It's one of those hidden gems in romance. It was my first read by Annette Blair but most certainly will not be my last. I very much look forward to trying more of her work soon. Thee, I Love was more recently republished under the new title, Jacob's Return.
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