Bought for my Kindle
Sophie Dixon has never really recovered from her mother’s suicide when she was just 12 years old. Her politician father retreated almost immediately to Canberra, leaving Sophie in the care of her distant aunt Tess. Sophie’s only comfort has been her horses and she works them every day, competing in local events, determined to rise through the equestrian ranks. A deal one day with local trainer, her neighbour Aaron Laidlaw sees her strapping his racehorses for him in exchange for potentially buying one of Aaron’s steeplechasers should he not win his race.
There has always been bad blood between the Laidlaws and the Dixons for as long as Sophie can remember. Aaron’s father was warned off for doping racehorses and Sophie has always been told by her father that the Laidlaw’s are bad business and she should stay away. But Sophie can’t help but want to get to know Aaron a little more – and she gets the opportunity when his stable jockey Danny falls in a jumps race and is injured, leaving Aaron and his cash strapped stable down a morning worker/rider. Sophie offers herself for the position, bargaining her services in exchange for taking possession of the horse she wants to train for her equestrian eventing at the end of his race preparation. Aaron is forced to accept the deal, especially when Sophie sweetens it by purchasing a racehorse bound for the knackery and working out a deal on training fees, offering him lucerne from her property. Although in possession of a beautiful property, it’s held in trust for her until she turns 25 and she’s almost as cash-strapped as Aaron. This way they both get what they want.
The attraction simmers between them and Sophie is keen to act on it, despite the fact that she knows that it will anger her already distant and disapproving father. She is lonely and looking for some happiness but even though the two families have been at odds, she doesn’t expect Aaron to distance himself from her in the way he does, especially as she feels that he is interested too. What Sophie doesn’t realise is that Aaron is hiding a terrible secret from her – more than one actually – and is bound by a crippling guilt to always do as right as he can by Sophie, believing himself responsible for something that happened in the past. He’s sure that if Sophie were to learn the truth about him, she would only hate him and her fragile state of mind wouldn’t be able to cope with the truth of her tragic past.
Promises is Australian rural romance author Cathryn Hein’s first novel. I read her second novel, Heart Of The Valley earlier this year and immediately added this one to my TBR list. I picked it up for my Kindle and deliberately kept it for my holiday to visit my family as my poor Kindle tends to get neglected in favour of shiny print books. I knew I was going to love it, because it’s about horse racing, which has always been a part of my family and my life growing up. I immediately loved Sophie, because although she’d had her problems with a mother that had committed suicide when she was at a very vulnerable age, a father that had basically disappeared from her life and an aunt who resented her existence, it was clear to see from the very beginning how passionate she was about her horses and her eventing and how they were really her strength. She was still young, only 22 years old and making the best go of her inheritance that she could, learning about pastures, crops and cattle. She still attempted to have decent relationships with her father and her aunt, even though a lot of the time it had been thrown back in her face, particularly by her aunt who brought up Sophie’s lowest moment every time. When she begins working with Aaron, it’s like it’s the first time that she’s ever really had someone to talk to, to be friends with. They share a common interest in horses and both have the same wishes and hopes for their lives.
Aaron is caught between a rock and a very hard place. When he was 16 he made a promise to himself but now he’s finding it extremely hard to keep that promise. The guilt that weighs on him is terrible and there were times that Aaron’s obvious self-torturing of himself made me choke up a little. He’s so sure that Sophie won’t be able to forgive him his secrets and he’s also terrified of upsetting her and stirring up what would be considerable pain for her, especially as he believes that Sophie is not as strong mentally as he first thought. Instead he punishes himself and Sophie by alternately getting close to her because it’s what he desperately wants, and then distancing himself from her as the guilt over takes him. I loved the chemistry between them and the fact that once again, this romance was a very slow burn – they are friends first, very good friends, spending long hours working together and talking on the phone. I think these romances are probably harder to write, because it’s a delicate balance maintaining that push-pull factor of attraction/distancing and keeping the chemistry strong and consistent.
Promises is a fabulous story encompassing Australia’s wonderful country horse racing circuit and containing strong, likable characters who work their way into your heart and stay there. I find myself thinking of Aaron and Sophie still and hope they’ve made their lives together combining their properties and their individual horse-related careers. Their love story is a Romeo & Juliet style one where they must both need to overcome the horrors of their past and move forward together.
Book #142 of 2012