HOMETOWN GIRL - Mariah Stewart
The Chesapeake Diaries , Book 4
Ballantine Books
October 2011
Contemporary Romance

St. Dennis , Maryland - The Present

Brooke Burke has returned home to St. Dennis to raise her son and start a cupcake baking business. Since her beloved husband died in Iraq three years ago, she is no longer interested in love, and certainly doesn't want to make herself vulnerable to such loss again. She is staying with her brother Clay, who now owns the family farm, until she can reclaim her life. In St. Dennis she is friends with a few shop owners (who are heroines of previous books in the series) willing to help her develop her business.

Brooke's family has a long history in the area, as does Jesse Enright's, whose grandfather owns the Enright and Enright law firm. Because of his father's misdeeds, his grandfather does not welcome Jesse warmly but with caution and doubt. A capable lawyer, Jesse must prove himself for a year to his grandfather's satisfaction before he can earn a place in the third generation family business. Jesse doesn't want to put roots down if his grandfather decides to close the firm rather than let him have it. Brooke, though, could make him change his mind, yet she has dated every eligible man in town once, and then abandoned them.

Characters from previous stories, Dallas , Steffie, and Vanessa, help build a framework for Brooke and Jesse's romance. Dallas and Steffie are both planning weddings and desire Brooke's baking talents. The romance between Brooke and Jesse is slow and deliberate, as both try to find their place in the community. Jesse's stay is especially tenuous because he only recently joined the community. Estranged from their father, Jesse and his sister Sophie have never met their half siblings from their father's previous marriage. While all this is going on, romance is in the air for other characters drawn to St. Dennis. Pages from the diary of Grace, the local inn owner, bookmark the story. These excerpts show she seems to dabble in fortune telling and herbal spells, giving her the hint of a mystical matchmaker. Perhaps it works. St. Dennis attracts special couples who fall in love despite the odds.

The characters shine in this story about love, family, friendship, and community. The situations are believable, and while the romance seems assured, author Mariah Stewart keeps the reader's interest with the completion of side stories and the hints of things to come. This slice of a life story is good reading and as tasty as Brooke's cupcakes.

Robin Lee