On SEP`s page the blurb starts with: This is not an official Chicago Stars book, but continues the story of the Bonner family.
I have to read books in order, that is a given. So I am not skipping one of the toughest characters and one of the toughest life stories out here.
In Dream a Little Dream Rachel Stone is an outcast—broke, unemployed, with a five-year-old son to raise, and Gabriel Bonner is the hostile black sheep of the town’s most prominent family. They first meet upon Rachel`s return to Salvation, the town she fled after her televangelist husband stole millions out of the pockets of the faithful. G. Dwayne Snopes did not only steal the money. He stole and fled (dying on the way), leaving Rachel to deal with it while trying to raise their son Edward. Gabe was out of town for his own sad reasons. He was running away from the memory of his dead wife and little son. The best description of his state would be this quote:
“… in his chest, his heart seeped. It wasn`t blood that escaped – that had been shed long ago – but a thick, bile-like fluid that ran through veins that had become rivers of pain carrying a bottomless cargo of grief.”
I have read this book for the first time many moons ago, and I have read it several times since, and this still gets me. It is one of the best descriptions of overwhelming emotional pain I have ever read.
His family is what is keeping him alive, or rather his unwillingness to cause them more pain. Reverend Ethan Bonner, his brother, is one of the first among the cast of characters to show dislike and contempt towards Rachel and bubble wrapped care for his brother, which turns out to be modus operandi for the whole town.
Gabe bought Pride of Carolina, an outdoor theater, in his attempt to live an existence as far from his previous life as possible. In a show of pity for Rachel, he hires her to work for him, and help him fix up the place.
Their story starts (and resolves) violently, and as usual, the setup for the actual resolution is over half of the book long. We get the whole package with SEP: the motivation, the history, the character arc, the common sense and actual humanity, and sincere sex.
The side story with Ethan and his assistant Kristy plays wonderfully along with the main storyline. Ethan is almost like a second male lead with the depth he has (nevermind the talking-to-god bit), and him accepting Rachel is connected with him accepting himself.
The party would not be complete without the third brother, Cal and his wife Jane, we met in Nobody’s Baby But Mine. Cal is terribly protective of Gabe so he is inclined to eliminate all perceived or real threats to his brother. He shows up out of the blue so he really doesn`t know what he is talking about or who he is dealing with. But he is forceful and eager, so his methods don`t take long to trigger the culmination.
Gabe`s relationship with Edward brings another dimension to this raw love story. Rachel is a woman with a sickly son, Gabe is a broken man without his robust child. He can`t escape comparisons, and he can`t manage any tender feelings for the boy. But they are making him deal with life.
I could have taken many highlights out of the book or “dwelled” on my reluctance to read about such heavy baggage in romance novels. But I can`t make it about little things or even myself (even though this is supposed to be a review). This book is about empathy. Mountains of it. Empathy and understanding for the person next to you, no matter the qualifications. And that is a beautiful message. The fact that the book is a 10/10 in every other way is jut the cherry on top.