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To Dream Again by Laura Lee Guhrke

Monday, April 29, 2013

To Dream Again

Laura Lee Guhrke
Historical Romance
Originally published in 1995

H/h - Nathaniel Chase/Mara Elliot
Setting: London, 1899.

Read in 2013
My rating:

                                           [spoiler alert]

To Dream Again by LLG had a little slower pace for my liking but overall, it was an honest, heartfelt read. The hero, Nathaniel was a whimsical inventor with a brilliant mind. No rake or bad boy but an eager, good man. The heroine, Mara had her heartaches and trust-issues, and even though at times, I was quite frustrated with her, I still liked her.

Mara’s husband, James has died recently while he was chasing rainbows in America. She had been married to him for more than a decade, but James had been not much of a husband to her. He was a charming guy, a dream chaser but without the substance. The dreams a very young and orphaned Mara had while she married him died painful deaths long time ago. James would find new ‘dreams’, borrow money to chase that and when he found he can’t really make it happen, he’d pack up and leave, leaving Mara to clean up his mess. Paying off his creditors however she can manage had become her ‘life’. Mara is smart with a good head for finance. She’s also a person ruled by her conscience, so she has strict morals and a little conservative. Mara has learned the hard way not to take risks. So when James left 4 yrs ago, again, leaving her and their only daughter Helen, Mara gave up on him. Nothing could hold him back; neither her pleas, tears, nor the talks of a stable life for Helen. Mara even wrote a letter telling him never to return. She took control of the last thing he left to her, an electrical company and had been trying hard to keep it going, scrimping to be afloat with minimal profit. Then tragedy occurred when Helen died in a fire in the small and dingy apartment they were living at that time. Mara’s life has never been the same. She has scars to bear, inside out but to survive, she’d made the company her life, until she hears of James’s death and that her company is going bankrupt very soon!

Mara is speechless when she gets the news but then, she never expected any less from James! He mortgaged the company for a hefty amount before he left. Now that he’s dead, the bank thinks there’s no one to take care of it, and so, they’ll put it on auction; unless Mara can pay them back in 3 days, which is virtually impossible. The bank won’t listen to her, a mere woman, so no concessions were made. Mara doesn’t have anything or anyone to rely on. She feels so very helpless and I could feel her despair. It made me sad for her. But she won’t give up. Mara has leaned to take care of herself from an early age and will find a way. But how? When Mara is desperate for a way to save her little company, help finds her totally unexpectedly in the form of inventor Nathaniel Chase.

Nathaniel is the second son of an Earl. He has always been deemed as a failure by his father, who preferred his arrogant and snobbish eldest son, Adrian, the heir to the famous Chase Toy Company. Nathaniel used to stammer when he was younger. He was also physically weak, so no one tried discovering for his brilliance. The poor baby did his little inventions himself, working on the already invented toys, trying to improve them. No one had the patience to listen to him since he stammered very badly. Adrian made things worse by bullying him whenever he could. I couldn’t believe that an elder brother would be so cruel to his own little brother, but there it was! One day, Nathaniel’s life changed when his grandfather, who is the real owner of the company, found him working. He was amazed by little Nathaniel’s ideas and listened to him. His grandfather was the one who realized his potentials and made sure that he gets his share in the company. Nathaniel’s father was not happy about it but after working with a grownup Nathaniel for some times, he understood that his younger son is not the useless thing he thought him to be. By then Nathaniel has grown out of his stammers too. Adrian was studying, grooming to become the heir and take control of the company when the time comes. But he has never been interested in anything but the profits and as soon as their father died, Adrian fired Nathaniel. He was that jealous of his position in the company! And then, Adrian made it his life’s work to degrade, defeat and disgrace his brother however he can.

Nathaniel didn’t have any money, but for the little he could earn by selling his ideas to other companies. He tried to his best to fight back, but without the sufficient amount, there was no way he could’ve won. He tried in America, even there he failed. So, Nathaniel was sure that he has nothing to give to the world and was floating around when he met James Elliot. His words gave Nathaniel the succor he needed to start all over again. As planned, Nathaniel returned to England very recently. He’s supposed to meet James here, who talked about transforming his own company to work on Nathaniel’s improved toy train-set ideas. But James is yet to return, and when Nathaniel visits the company, his personal secretary arranges a meeting with his wife instead, who has been taking care of the company on James’s behalf.

I really loved the way they first met. Nathaniel rented rooms in the same apartment as Mara, having no idea about each-other. Mara’s mind was filled with despair about how to save her company, and then, with the news of James’s death. After a dejected day, Mara returns and lays her weary head on the small table of her one room apartment. She’d fallen asleep, keeping the door open. Nathaniel was on his way out to run some errand when he sees her like that; a sight that instantly fascinates him. Something about this woman got to him. Then Mara wakes up and finds this very handsome, blonde and tall gentleman staring at her unabashedly, something that makes her blush. She didn’t think she could blush anymore. Mara’s a little annoyed but taken aback when he quotes something from Shakespeare.

Throughout the story, one thing I really appreciated was Nathaniel’s little quirks; be it quoting Shakespeare or thinking aloud about one of his inventions. He was sometimes living in his own mind, a brilliant mind which was always clicking and whirling. He had ideas aplenty, but money was in short, something that proves to be a hindrance for them in the later parts of the story, creating conflicts between him and a strict Mara.

On the day of the meeting, Nathaniel finds the factory closed, along with the news of James’s death. He felt that his dream is crashing down on him, all over again. When he was about to leave, he finds Finch, Mara’s solicitor, who just might have a plan. It’s going to be difficult but not unattainable. On the other hand, Mara returned from some other investors, sick at heart, because no one wanted to help ‘a woman.’ She was feeling her company slipping through her hands, when she finds Nathaniel and Finch waiting for her on her doorstep. At first she doesn’t understand, but soon things being to fall into place. So, this is the gentleman who came to see James! When they sit to talk about his proposal, Mara is instinctively on the defense. She has enough of charming guys in her life and Nathaniel is making things too easy for her. He wants to buy her company with the bigger percentage; in return he’ll pay back the debt. She can continue to work here as his partner, something that takes her aback. Mara is stunned yet skeptical. He doesn’t explain what he wants to do with the company. But Finch reminds her that she has no other option to save it. After the deal was sighed (much to Nathaniel’s relief, who was finding it difficult to convince this woman), Mara finally talks about her yearly plans. But Nathaniel breaks the news to her; they’ll make toy train-sets!

Mara is shocked speechless for a while, then vehemently objecting this venture. To her, this is a sure way to loss and bankruptcy. Mara has no intentions of going to the poorhouse when (as she’s sure) his plan fails. But Nathaniel is determined, and with the bigger percentage, he is the decision-maker. This keeps happening almost the entire story; Mara putting up objection to almost every step Nathaniel took towards his dream. But she couldn’t be blamed entirely. Mara has known losses and the scare of living on the street all her life. I could feel her bone deep fear, though she tried keeping up that strong and emotionless façade. The men in Mara’s life have never been responsible. She can’t take it that the control of her living (as the company has come to mean to her) is, yet again, in the hands of a man. She hates losing this control and over an illution that is surely going to break her this time. But for Nathaniel it was a battle of sort. He increasingly begins to feel like an outsider, but tries his best to keep Mara involved in all the decision-making. It was SO sweet of him to think of her, especially after slowly learning of James’s real character and his treatment of Mara. He disliked the man now for making her this way; so vulnerable, a person with such strong trust-issue.

Nathaniel hires his engineer friend Michael, as the supervisor. They start planning about how to start and improve the company. Mara, reluctantly, also begins to get involve, one, because she has no other choice and two (the most important), Nathaniel’s method of convincing her. He has a way about him that assures that everything’s going to be alright. Mara fell for it. She hated that she’s falling for his charm (and him), but it was there. She tried her best to be the partner, working diligently on the financial side of the matter that Nathaniel said should be completely her area. You could see how much Nathaniel wanted her respect and acknowledgement. You heart would go out to him because Nathaniel craved that understanding from Mara, for the more he was getting to know her, the more he wanted her. Everything about her. But, sadly, the attraction they might’ve felt for each-other was being greatly interrupted by their constant disagreement and word exchange. It was frustrating because I wanted Mara to get out of her safety cocoon (as did Nathaniel) and work with him. He needed her acknowledgement, damn it! After reading about his life, about how he was bullied and how he felt unwanted, I couldn’t but want him to be happy.

Nathaniel was an overall good guy, and I already said, his quirks were sexy to read. How Mara could have pushed him away, even after he was pouring his heart out to her, I don’t know. Not only he admired her for her diligence and brilliance in finance, he also made sure to build a fire-escape in the remodeled factory after learning how Helen had died. The trauma of that fire still haunted Mara who couldn’t stand any kid inside the factory. He insisted on escorting Mara to their apartment every day, though it was very close to the factory, because he was concerned about her safety. Nathaniel was very considerate about everything, but she wasn’t. It took him some long-months of painstaking persuasion to gain a fragile measure of her trust and her subsequent cooperation. Mara made a big fuss about loaning money again from the bank. When they were somewhat in agreement of it, the banker, who previously denied Mara any help, did everything he could, very enthusiastically, finding Nathaniel with her. It pissed Mara off but such was the ‘station’ of women back then!

In between, there are some other developments. One was, Adrian hearing the news of Nathaniel’s return and planning his downfall again. He assigns a detective on Nathaniel, to find out what he’s been up to this time. Adrian was such a loser. At times, I thought his resentment was a little exaggerated, but still, a loser. There were some troubles brewing at the factory as well. Although most workers liked Nathaniel, some didn’t want to take orders from a woman now that there is a man in charge, or so to speak. Mara had a problem with this burly workman, who tries pushing her around, only to find himself flattened by Nathaniel in the next moment. He gets fired for his impudence.

This guy was another sore loser who didn’t take care of his motherless little boy. Billy was always being bullied by some street kids for an ugly birthmark on his face but no one to come to his help. Only Nathaniel observed that a few times since those occurrences took place on the back alley. One day, Nathaniel finds Billy beaten down on the street and brings him inside the factory. After knowing Nathaniel’s kindness and Mara’s strong yet soft touch, the boy begins to feel at home in the factory. He becomes a regular feature there, as did the cat, Algernon, which made Mara its reluctant guardian.

After the whirlwind of push and pull, and spending time together, Mara and Nathaniel both come closer. Nathaniel was open and honest but Mara became a closed book whenever he’s ask her something she didn’t want to talk about. It frustrated him to no end, but his coaxing and teasing, sometimes even flirtation softened Mara to some extent. At one point, she begins to open up about her life with James. Nathaniel kept urging her to take a leap, not to be afraid, even though inside he was as vulnerable as Mara. Maybe more so. He still didn’t know that the disaster in America was Adrian’s doing so he makes sure Mara doesn’t know about it. He knew Mara wouldn’t make his life any easier if she’s made aware of this incident.

I liked Nathaniel immensely; his kisses, his exuberance for life, his flirtation (nothing over the top but very sweet) and finally, his open admission of falling in love with Mara. It came out of nowhere, stunning Mara into speechlessness. But she hurts him by denying her feelings outright. She wanted Nathaniel, and yet that step towards happiness was something she couldn’t take without the thoughts of heartbreak and disillusionment. This triggered her iciness, something of self-preservation. I was frustrated, to say the least. Nathaniel wanted her to take that step… which she does after a while. The sex should’ve brought them closer but Nathaniel’s words of marriage made her push him away, again. Gosh, I just wanted to scream! This time, Nathaniel’s patience wears off. He distances himself from her. He won’t even talk to her unless it’s absolutely necessary. But Nathaniel’s reluctance in walking her home is what strikes Mara the hardest. Mara could feel how much she has hurt him; she wasn’t a ninny after all. She tries to take steps to amend this but Nathaniel this time, pushes her efforts away.

After a burglary attempt at the factory (something that was done by Adrian’s hired goon), Nathaniel starts staying the night at the factory, making the gap between them even broader. Billy could understand that something was wrong. He worked as their messenger to each-other. When, one day, Billy’s father dies a very unsavory death, Mara decides to adopt Billy because the boy had no one to turn to. This helps bridging the gap a little, though Nathaniel still preferred to keep his distance.

In time, Mara becomes desperate to do something about it. She realizes, albeit a little late, that her life would never be the same without Nathaniel, or Billy or even Algernon in it. Nathaniel learns more about Adrian’s nefarious plans to ruin him, his actions in America. Now he only needs a way to stop him. Adrian makes more trouble for them. When Nathaniel confronts Adrian finally, he had every intention to fight for his dreams. But then, Adrian threatens to harm Mara. He wants Nathaniel to leave England, never to return again. But when it came down to Mara, Nathaniel bowed out. His love for her was so strong that he was willing to give up everything so that Mara remains safe. He even plans to leave without telling her...

But Mara surprises me by doing something when she later finds out about it. For the first time, she takes a big risk; all for keeping Nathaniel’s dreams alive because only with Nathaniel, she can dream too, of a better life. There was no epilogue, another abrupt finish. 4 stars, mainly for Nathaniel. I thought the storyline could’ve been better if there were more steam and intensity and less frustrating moments.


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