By Christina Skye
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: September 24th, 2013
The last thing Rafe Russo or anyone else who knew him ever expected was that the troubled, young rebel of Summer Island would find himself at not yet thirty a reluctant hero and the newest deputy sheriff in his old hometown. But after a fuel dump explosion almost killed him and did end his career as a member of a Marine recon team, it’s not as if he has a lot of options. Summer Island is a far cry from Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other distant places where Rafe has spent the past decade, but petty thefts and a stolen identity case have kept him hopping during his first day on the job—and that’s before the first winter storm of the season hits.
Olivia is on her way back to Harbor House with supplies for plumbing repairs when rain and ice turn the trip on the narrow coast road into a nightmare. Watching in horror as a speeding truck passes her and collides with an oncoming SUV, Olivia finds the road blocked by a stalled school minivan half-buried in a mudslide. Swerving to avoid the minivan and the children beside it, she strikes a law-enforcement vehicle. Not until she is in the local clinic recovering from a separated shoulder and possible concussion does Livie learn that the driver of the other vehicle, the man who administered first aid to her at the accident site, was none other than Rafe Russo, the bad boy who broke her heart ten years earlier when he left Summer Island and Olivia without even a goodbye.
The sizzling physical attraction between Olivia and Rafe remains undiminished since their teenage years, but the bond between them, based on a friendship dating back to elementary school days, is even harder to ignore—even in the face of their heavy emotional baggage. Olivia was a child of wealth and privilege, a good girl who did everything she could to earn the love and approval of her demanding, critical, emotionally distant father. A licensed architect, a gifted photographer, and a skilled knitter, thanks to her upbringing, she has little confidence in herself professionally or personally. She’s not the only one with daddy issues. Rafe’s father was literally absent, having abandoned his family when his two sons were children. Rafe responded to his father’s desertion by rebelling against authority in all forms. He was constantly breaking rules at school and later even breaking the law. He thought Livie was too good for him; so did most of the good citizens of Summer Island. They haven’t changed their opinion, and neither has Rafe. Livie’s low self-esteem and fear of another betrayal and Rafe’s feelings of unworthiness, magnified by some of the things his job as a warrior required of him, mean that they have a mountain of obstacles to overcome before they find their HEA.
Although it is less obvious than it should be, Butterfly Cove is the third novel in Skye’s Summer Island series. This book and the series in general have most of the elements of a terrific series: a picturesque small town, adorable animal characters; a group of women with a long history of loving, loyal friendship and shared experiences; hunky, wounded heroes with dangerous pasts (in some cases dangerous present as well) that required them to lay their lives on the line for the greater good; and sufficient external and internal conflict to keep things interesting. Yet, I’ve finished all three novels and the one novella in the series in love with the characters but feeling cheated by too many loose ends and unanswered questions.
“Return to Summer Island,” Skye’s novella in The Knitting Diaries (2011), introduced the series. It is the story of Caro McNeal, victim of an automobile accident and accomplished knitter, and Lieutenant Gage Grayson, a Marine on his way to Afghanistan. I liked the characters and enjoyed the epistolary quality of the story but disliked the truncated feel of the conclusion. A Home by the Sea (2011), my favorite of the series, is the story of Noah McLeod, a bomb squad specialist who works for a top secret government agency who is still dealing with grief over the loss of his brother when he meets food historian Grace Lindstrom, who is dealing with her own conflicted grief over a fiancé whose infidelity was exposed with his death. I found a heroine who rescues abandoned puppies and a hero who adores his mother irresistible, but the ending left me wondering (1) how a relationship with the H/H living nearly a country apart could end in an HEA, (2) what would happen to Grace’s ailing grandfather, and (3) if Noah’s niece, the only child of his dead brother, would be lost to her father’s family. The Accidental Bride (2012) is the story of Jilly O’ Hara, owner of a successful restaurant, and war hero Walker Hale, member of a wealthy, politically powerful, dysfunctional family, and their fake wedding that becomes real. I concluded my review of that novel with these words:
[O]ne of the reasons I’m addicted to series is that I love catching glimpses of the ongoing happiness of the H/H pairs from earlier books. In The Accidental Bride, Caro is on Summer Island caring for her baby and worrying about Gage who is still in danger every day, and Grace is wondering if she and Noah will ever have time together because he can’t seem to keep his promise to break free of his dangerous job. So although Jilly and Walker get their HEA, I wasn’t altogether happy with how they arrived there, and I finished concerned about Caro and Grace. I’ll be back for Olivia’s story. I can only hope that it will bring not only an HEA for her but also reaffirm the HEAs of her three friends.
Butterfly Cove does expand on Jilly and Walker’s HEA, but Gage is still not home and Grace and Noah are still living 3000 miles apart. Added to these ongoing concerns are those particular to the third novel. First, there’s Rafe’s family. We know he has a mother and a younger brother, but when he returns home, he never visits them or calls them or has any contact at all with them. I kept wondering why. Also, while connecting his youthful rebellion with his missing father is a line the weakest student of psychology can draw, the issue is never really addressed. Then there’s the matter of the missing fortune of Livie’s father. He was a wealthy man, but he left debts and only $34 in his bank account. Even Olivia’s inheritance and personal effects from her grandmother are gone. Olivia learns something about her father’s secret, kinky sex life, but she has only an unopened letter. The novel ends with no real answers.
I understand that series sometimes have overarching plot threads, and that authors may use them to tantalize readers, up to and including cliffhangers. But the money issue is not an ongoing thread; it is a central concern in this particular book. I felt betrayed when the mystery was left unresolved, especially when logic dictated that the story of the fourth and final Harbor House friend should offer closure. Skye indicates vaguely in an author’s note that the Summer Island series will continue. I’m invested enough in these characters to keep reading, seeking the answers I need, but I will do so as a frustrated, irritated reader rather than as an excited one, happily anticipating more of this series and motivated to follow the author into other books unrelated to Summer Island. If you are a patient reader who is undisturbed by a plethora of loose ends, you may find Butterfly Cove and the other Summer Island books more satisfying than I did. For readers whose expectations mirror mine, I really can’t recommend this book.