LISTEN TO WHAT IS NOT SAID – LOOK AT WHAT YOU DON’T SEE
This is the first entry in the Wilde Brothers series by Lorhainne Eckhart. However, it is more the story of Margaret Gordon than the story of Joe Wilde.
Margaret Gordon is back at her late grandfather’s ranch in Post Falls, Idaho, after being fired from her job in Seattle. But she is not there to lick her wounds, regain her equilibrium and find a new job. She’s there to hide, to do penance for her failure. She sees no hope for regaining her footing, let alone a job, because the child whose brain function she damaged on the operating table can never regain his.
Margaret is broken, truly and completely broken. And the operating room error was simply the last event in the proverbial Rule of Three. In the same time frame as her firing, she learns that her beloved grandfather has been found dead. And not long before that, her live-in boyfriend of two years, an intern, had secretly taken a post in Boston and left her nothing but a Dear Jane email in his wake.
But this was not the only Rule of Three that had brought Margaret to this emotional pit, feeling incompetent, unloved and unlovable. First, her parents, both high-powered executives, had divorced, neither wanting custody of Margaret. Secondly, at the age of twelve, her mother, with no warning, dropped her on the grandfather’s porch, walked away and never returned. Thirdly, as a result of her mother’s actions, Margaret, a tall, gangly, pre-teen, had to enter the school system of a small, tight, rural community. There, with abandonment issues and above average intelligence, she found herself to be a social misfit and the object of constant verbal scorn from the reigning clique led by none other than our male protagonist, Joe Wilde.
But during those few years in Post Falls, she discovered the adeptness of her hands and learned ever so much more. Her grandfather, a man who could never tell her that he cared, showed his love by teaching her how to run a ranch, how to bear the consequences of her actions, and how to raise and train horses. And it is that last skill that brings Joe Wilde to her doorstep
Joe Wilde is also broken, but in a much different way than Margaret. He hates himself for reasons that are not revealed until the middle of the book. He hates the fact that he is a widower and he hates his financial circumstances. He hates the way his 13-year-old son has become sullen and disobedient. He hates the horse that has suddenly turned aggressive and has attacked his son repeatedly. And he hates Margaret Gordon because she never fought back when be bullied her, because she refused to notice him when he wanted her to, and because he feels she sold out her roots to become a money-grubbing surgeon.
But, on the advice of the feed store owner and because his son truly loves that horse, Joe finds himself on Margaret’s doorstep, asking for help with the horse. Well, he’s not really asking; he’s demanding. Fueled by the frustrations of the past, Joe barges into Margaret’s personal space, both literally and figuratively. He reverts to the bullying and manipulations that he used on her so long ago and uses the potential death of his son as a battering ram to badger Margaret into working with the horse.
And thus begins one of the most tightly wrapped psychological thrillers that I have encountered recently. It is not a thriller in the context of trying to stop some homicidal maniac. It is a thriller in the sense that our two protagonists are at the most significant crossroads of their lives. Neither can go back from whence they came, and each of the roads they see before them seems out of the question.
There are no fluff pages in this story, no scenes where either the main characters or the reader can relax and take a well-deserved breath. Every scene is intended to move the story forward, emotionally and psychologically, for both Margaret and Joe. There are no quick fixes and no rushed ending where all is magically forgiven.
And there is a lot to be forgiven, and not just from their teen years. Joe is a man emitting very mixed signals. One minute he is calm and understanding, the next minute he is as dense as a box of rocks. He has a lot to say and, when he does, there is no filter between his brain and his mouth. And his actions are just as erratic, one minute civilized, the next minute hurtful. But most times they are just poorly thought out in relation to their consequences.
Quite frankly, it is hard to believe, as you read along, that this novel could ever have an HEA. This is not a Cinderella tale; it is a story of personal salvation. You can actually feel the point when Joe does and says one thing too many and Margaret hits rock bottom. You can feel her begin to claw her way back up, when she can no longer turn the other cheek and starts to fight back. And you can feel her survive his ultimate betrayal, his last action where his mouth moves faster than his brain.
This is one of the few times that I have ever agreed with every step that an author takes regarding the character development of a main female protagonist. Her responses to the situations in which she finds herself are realistic, self- and other-protective and sound. Eckhart crafts, in Margaret, a character that learns the difference between running and leaving, who comes to understand the difference between childish delusions and unconditional love and who learns to love and respect herself.
However, on the negative side, I feel that Eckhart went too far with the stereotypical redneck persona given to Joe. Her presentation of his character gave me little reason to even like the man, let alone root for him to successfully resolve his relationship with Margaret.
Rest assured that there is no magical, Cinderella denouement in the final pages either. Margaret is still socially challenged, her parents are still unresponsive, and Joe still has to contend with that problematic box of rocks in his brain. But the reader is assured that they will face these issues together and that each is, to the other, the one they need to complete the family of the heart. And, of course, there are four more Wilde brothers for them to influence.
Cover Art from Goodreads