After Molly Sterling Wells' ex-husband, Rodney, beat his horse, Sonora Sunset, within an inch of his life, she risks everything to steal Sunset and run half-way across Oregon in search of known horse whisperer, Jake Coulter. Expecting to find an older Robert Redford type, Molly is surprised upon arriving at Jake's ranch, the Lazy J, to instead find a gorgeous young cowboy who has a gentle way with animals. Sonora had been wild with fear during the journey, so they were lucky to make it to the Lazy J in one piece. Molly is amazed at how deftly Jake is able to handle the frightened beast and that he doesn't seem the least bit afraid. She had been hoping to simply bring Sunset to the Lazy J and leave him in capable and caring hands, but when Jake quotes his price for training the horse, Molly knows that she doesn't have enough money to pay. After seeing Molly's belongings packed into the back of her small SUV, Jake realizes that there is more to the situation than meets the eye, but Molly is obviously too frightened herself to tell him anything more than what she already has. Sensing that Molly has a good heart and knowing that he can't possibly allow Sunset to be returned to an abusive owner, Jake decides to take a chance, offering Molly the position of ranch cook and housekeeper in exchange for Sunset's upkeep. Fearing that her ex may already be hot on her trail, Molly is at first reluctant, but quickly realizes that this quiet ranch in the middle of nowhere may be the perfect temporary haven.
Molly has never done this type of work before and completely doubts her ability to perform the job well. Nevertheless, she focuses all her energy on doing a good job to please Jake and his ranch hands, but in spite of her best efforts, she fails miserably. Instinctively recognizing Molly's fragile self-esteem and knowing that she tried her best, Jake can't bring himself to say anything about her work. She has endeared herself to his men in other ways, and Jake finds himself hopelessly attracted to this petite pretty lady who seems to think nothing of herself except that she is fat and ugly. Jake sets about trying to woo her, but the horrific ordeal of her first marriage has made Molly extremely reluctant to put herself in a position where she can be controlled by any man again. Jake cannot be easily dissuaded from his mission though. He puts to use all of his skill and talent as a horse whisperer to rebuild Molly's damaged self-image and help her to see her true worth. The only problem is that Molly has many secrets about her past that she has kept from Jake, secrets that could endanger them and everyone on the Lazy J. When strange things begin happening on the ranch, Molly fears that she may be responsible and consequently, as crazy as Rodney had claimed her to be. Before Molly can tell Jake the truth though, Rodney shows up alleging authority to take her away, leaving Jake to make a drastic decision to save his sweet Molly from the clutches of a madman.
Though not her absolute best, in my opinion, Sweet Nothings is nonetheless another strong offering from Catherine Anderson in her Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. The first half of the book moves at a very languid pace due to that portion of the story being very character-driven. It is the time when the relationship between Jake and Molly, the hero and heroine, is developing, and Molly is growing beyond her tormented past. At about the half-way point, the pace picks up a bit, and the story transforms into a mild suspense/thriller, as Molly's abusive ex-husband comes back to stir up trouble. This part of the plot added interest to the narrative, but unfortunately at times, I found it to be somewhat predictable. Romance readers who prefer novels that are light on love scenes should enjoy this book. Aside from one very passionate embrace early on, Jake and Molly share no further intimate contact, not even a kiss, until over ¾ of the way into the book. Molly was in a pretty extreme state of mind when she and Jake first met, so I could understand the author's reasoning for doing this. However, I felt that as a result Jake and Molly never built a full emotional connection, and consequently, it was hard for me to discern exactly when and how they fell in love. There were some emotional and romantic scenes which helped, but I thought they were rather uneven and inconsistent. I thought that even just a few more simple interactions of a more personal nature, such as Jake holding Molly's hand, instead of her arm or elbow, when they took their nightly walk, or a little kiss on the cheek or forehead, would have helped to build a more romantic atmosphere as well as better sexual tension. As it was written, I felt that Sweet Nothings was a little lacking in the heart-stopping romance that I really prefer and that has been present in some of Ms. Anderson's other books.
That said though, I did not dislike the book either. I found Sweet Nothings to be an interesting character study into the life of a woman whose self-esteem had been beaten down about as low as it could go. I thought that Catherine Anderson did a fine job of realistically portraying how a woman in Molly's circumstances would have felt and reacted. Even when Molly had a couple of explosive moments that made her seem rather crazy, I could still understand her feelings and what motivated her to behave that way. As mentioned earlier, the languid nature of the fist half of the story really plays into the reader's understanding of the slow, step-by-step recovery process which Molly had to go through to find wholeness again. I found Ms. Anderson's parallel characterizations of Molly and the horse, Sunset, to be a rather ingenious device. Each reflected the abuse the other had suffered at the hands of the same man, and both were able to find a kindred spirit in the other. This same parallel was drawn between Jake, the horse whisper, and Jake, the kind and instinctive hero, which served to solidify this part of the story even more. I only wish that there had been more interactions between Jake, Molly and Sunset. When all was said and done, Sunset was a key player in the story, who I thought was a bit short-changed on scenes.
Having a pretty good idea of how my fellow romance readers think, I would predict that there are likely to be some who may find Molly's constant self-reproach to be annoying. By the same token, I am certain that other readers will find Molly's less-than-perfect body size and shape to be very relatable and refreshing. My personal take is that I found her to be a character with a lot of depth and nuance in which the reader has to look much deeper than the surface to fully understand what makes her tick. Molly was an admirable character in that she had a lot of inner strength to be able to do some of the things she did, such as repeatedly refusing to sign the papers her ex-husband brought to her when she was in a drugged state, or stealing an abused and frightened horse to transport him half-way across the state to safety. She had also survived a horrific ordeal that had been so well orchestrated, that her story sounded crazy even to herself, and so was understandably very wary of relating the events to anyone else. Even though I didn't always fully relate to Molly, I felt that I could at least understand her. While I wouldn't say that she was the most stand-out heroine I had ever read, the part of me that loves stories which delve deep into the human psyche was fascinated by her.
The character who really made the story for me was Jake, who may now be my favorite Catherine Anderson hero that I've read to date. Ms. Anderson has a talent for writing consistently scrumptious heroes and Jake Coulter was no exception. In my opinion, he really stole the show in this story. I usually tend to have a preference for slightly more imperfect heroes, but in the case of Ms. Anderson's male characters I can't seem to help but like them. I'm not sure that I have ever read a more perfect hero than Jake. Not only is he described as physically gorgeous, he is also kind, gentle, protective and extremely patient. I don't think he ever got angry with Molly, even when her behavior was rather over the top. Jake just always seemed to have an intuitive sense about what was bothering her and how to make it better. All these characteristics added to a man who is good with his hands, a hard worker, an animal lover, and who willingly reads romance novels make for a heady combination that's hard to beat. He did occasionally say the wrong thing, but was always quick to apologize and make things right again, as was Molly, which was an aspect of the story that I really appreciated. They also exhibited a trust in one another that was very heartwarming, though Molly's, of course, was built more slowly over time. Even though I became impatient at times while waiting for something more to develop between these two characters, I liked that they were able to communicate, which is more than can be said for the characters in some novels.
Sweet Nothings is the third book in the Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series. It is preceded by Baby Love, and Phantom Waltz and followed by Blue Skies, Bright Eyes, My Sunshine, Sun Kissed and Morning Light with more offerings yet to come. Readers are treated to a visit with Rafe and Maggie and Ryan and Bethany, the heroes and heroines of Baby Love, and Phantom Waltz respectively, as well as a good introduction to Hank Coulter, Jake's younger brother, who becomes the hero of the fourth book, Blue Skies. Hank and the Coulter siblings' parents, who also appear in Sweet Nothings, were first seen in Phantom Waltz. Zeke Coulter, who becomes the hero of Bright Eyes also makes a brief appearance in Sweet Nothings. While Sweet Nothings had some weaknesses and could have been better in places, I thought that overall it was a nice addition to the series. I look forward to continuing the Kendrick/Coulter/Harrigan series, as well as reading other books from Catherine Anderson's backlist.
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