After leaving her husband three days after their wedding and fleeing to San Diego for six years, nothing could make Dori MacAllister return to Paul "Trev" Trevelyan. Nothing, that is, until Pop --- Trev's grandfather --- is suddenly taken ill. Pop and his wife Honey raised Dori from the time she was seven and left orphaned when her parents were killed in a drunk driving accident. Dori packs her bags to go back East, little realizing that the suitcase she takes off the luggage carousel at her journey's end will be someone else's --- someone who will stop at nothing to get that suitcase back.
When Dori is reunited with Honey and Pop, a pitifully ill Pop extracts a promise that she and Trev will live together as husband and wife for the next six months. Unable to say no to him in his condition, Dori and Trev agree. Soon, Dori discovers the hard-drinking Trev who she left years ago was so devastated by her desertion that he has turned to God --- and become a pastor. Suddenly Dori sees Trev with new eyes, "wonderful, tall and strong, full of character and depth, a man worth knowing."
Wooed by Trev's romantic courting, Dori finds her anger at Trev's imagined past misdeeds beginning to dissipate. She discovers that Trev has taken in Ryan, a 13-year-old boy whose grandmother and caretaker is hospitalized and unable to run Harbor Lights, the Christian bookstore. Wanting to help Ryan's grandmother, she takes the neglected business under her wing.
Trouble is simmering just under the surface. Trev has his hands full with Bob, a member of his church who has left his wife and small children for Penni, "all wide eyes and hard edges." When Trev tells Bob and Penni they can no longer participate in church-sponsored activities until they end their adulterous affair, Bob threatens to raise questions about Dori and Trev's marriage that could cost Trev his job as pastor of Seaside Chapel. Meanwhile, the suitcase of stolen goods remains with Dori at Trev's house, and the thieves plot how to retrieve it.
Fans of the "gentle read" will appreciate such evasions as "…Dori knew she and Trev had the proverbial snowball's chance in that eternal hot place" and other conservative prose handlings that make for a squeaky clean read. Readers will need to suspend disbelief to enjoy the story; the premise that Dori and Trev would be married for only a few days and then live apart for six years, all because of a slight misunderstanding, may be a stretch for some. Some characters are one-dimensional --- Vinnie is the stereotypical criminal, and Joanne the cliché moll whose naiveté readers will recognize from any gangster movie.
Yet the pacing is pleasant, many of the characters are enjoyable (churchgoers will quickly realize "the three Graces") and there are surprises that help keep the pages turning. Although this can be read as a stand-alone book, readers may want to begin with the first installment, SPRING RAIN, followed by SUMMER SHADOWS and AUTUMN DREAMS.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on May 5, 2004