Life is not so much about avoiding mistakes and adversity as it is about how one acts in the face of them.

A chance encounter between Sabrina Carlisle and Harry Stillman at the outset of Josi S. Kilpack’s Rakes and Roses (Shadow Mountain Publishing) sets us up for many awkward situations and wayward choices in the compelling proper romance that follows.

But not quite yet.

Sabrina has dashed outside at a society party to get away from her brutal and abusive husband. A pleasantly drunk Harry notices her, offers to help, and is asked to fetch one of her closest friends from inside the affair. The meeting takes a matter of minutes. Hold that thought.

Years later, we catch up with Lady Sabrina. Her husband has died, she is left with his estate and fortune, and while she wallows in loneliness, she becomes a savvy and successful businesswoman, always doing what she can to make the world a better place, one man at a time. 

Harry, meanwhile, in line for a large inheritance from his uncle, falls out of favor with his benefactor for squandering the straight life in exchange for a collision course with booze, gambling and debt — indeed from the wrong lender, the seedy Malcolm. Harry looks for ways to leave London and escape Malcolm’s grip, but the results just get uglier.

Harry ultimately is convinced to seek out another lender, Lord Damion, known for helping men who have gone astray by not only paying off their debts but also setting up a strategy to guide them back to respectability and make them contributors to society.

But immediately upon leaving his initial meeting with Lord Damion, Harry is ambushed by Malcolm’s thugs and left beaten and broken in a London alley. 

Ironically, he is discovered by Lady Sabrina, also in town for an appointment of her own. While Harry does not remember the brief brush with Sabrina years earlier, the lady does, and takes what she regards as the only decent thing to do to a man in such pain and trouble: she brings him back to her estate to recover. For what amounts to weeks.

While Sabrina is all business in looking after the health and well-being of her new temporary boarder, Harry is trying to piece together how he has found himself at a low point in a life that had such promise and prospects. His battle to stay off the bottle is a difficult one.

SEEING BEYOND CURRENT CIRCUMSTANCES

“Whatever bit of good a person exercised in the world was a step toward making it a better place for everyone,” Kilpack writes of Sabrina’s motives. “Helping Mr. Stillman was one more way in which Sabrina was fulfilling that measure for helping herself while helping him do the same. The brief encounter with him all those years ago proved that he was capable of better things than he had chosen of late.”

Do we start to detect in Sabrina perhaps an ounce of curiosity about Harry, maybe even of the romantic type? As he recovers, are there hints of light-hearted banter and physical attraction? And what about Harry? Naturally, he is deeply indebted to this beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman who is acting as his savior. But is there an extra beat in his heart every time she checks in on him?

For different reasons, both have indicated that marriage in general — don’t even suggest the obvious for a minute — is not for them.

Kilpack creates memorable characters who run the gamut of hope and despair — in their actions and in their hearts. She develops an intriguing storyline that keeps readers engaged — to the point of almost forgetting early on that this book is a romance.

After days and weeks of sweating through alcohol withdrawal, there comes a day while still at Lady Sabrina’s when Harry wakes in the morning to watch the sunrise. “First the sky turned from gray to peach, then pink, then a color he could not name … The birds began to praise the dawn, and he watched as the first brush of sunlight changed the sky to gold. The first day. The start of a new life.”

Nature does its part. But what about Harry? Is he up to giving his life meaning again? And will Lady Sabrina be a part of it?


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Credit: Erin Summerill

Josi S. Kilpack is the author of several novels and one cookbook and a participant in several co-authored projects and anthologies. She is a four-time Whitney Award winner, including Lord Fenton’s Folly (2015) for Best Romance and Best Novel of the Year – and a Utah Best in State winner for fiction. She and her husband Lee are the parents of four children and live in northern Utah.