When I was sixteen, I spent a weekend with a friend and her sisters at their family’s beach house. On our first morning, we all woke up at some ungodly hour, ready to hit the beach the minute the sun peaked over the horizon. As we piled our bags full of towels and sunscreen, I realized—horror of horrors!—that I’d forgotten the most important part of the trip: (you guessed it) my book. Laying on the beach without something to read? Impossible! Luckily, past visitors to the house had left behind a little library. Crammed between the boilerplate mysteries and Danielle Steele novels was a book called Sea Swept. I had never heard of the author, Nora Roberts, but the title seemed fitting, so I took it. Little did I know this book would begin a love affair with an author that, to this day, shows no signs of fading.
While everyone else splashed in the waves, I lay on the sand, totally oblivious to the world around me. I was completely lost in the story of Cam and Anna and the way their incredible courtship played out against the backdrop of the Quinn family drama. Their struggle to resist one another and, later, to understand their relationship in the context of their professional and familial responsibilities perfectly echoed the tension between pain and hope that all the Quinn boys—Cam, Philip, Ethan, and now Seth—had felt until they had become a family.
The book’s heroine, Anna, continues to be one of the most memorable of any novel I’ve read. Her sense of humor, fiery emotions, and unwavering commitment to the man (and the boy) she comes to love make her the kind of character you simultaneously want to be and be friends with. Although the narrative is, in some ways, written more from Cam’s point of view (a rarity in the genre and one that Roberts does beautifully), Anna is the anchor of the story and, later, of the family she builds with Cam and Seth.
I finished Sea Swept before the day was over, and I was desperate for more. “What about the other brothers?! Who do they fall in love with?! What happens to Seth?!” By some blessing of the book gods, I barely had to wait to find out. Back at the beach house the next two books in the series, Rising Tides and Inner Harbor, were crammed into the same bookshelf. Before the weekend was over I had read them both, and started Sea Swept again.
I had to wait a few years for the final Chesapeake Bay book, Chesapeake Blue, but I can easily remember the day I got the call from my local library telling me it was in. It was a Friday, and I left work early to make it to the library before it closed. I spent the entire weekend huddled over that book, reading it three times before I stumbled into work on Monday, bleary eyed, with no regrets. Above all the books, I was perhaps most moved by this one, by how the now adult Seth and the love he is able to give (and accept) is only possible because of the men and women whose stories came before.
The Quinn brothers and the women who love (and argue with and challenge and inspire and humble) them have stayed with me over the years. I’ve often asked myself why it is that they, above so many other characters and their lives, would linger. There are probably more answers to this question than I can share without making your eyes water and your brains go numb. If I have to choose only one (do I have to? Okay, yes, I do. I will.), I would say this:
they are us at our best.
In Cam and Anna, Ethan and Grace, Phillip and Sybill, and Seth and Dru (and the countless other characters who influence their lives), Roberts has created people we can admire, people we can hope for and rejoice for and feel frustrated with, all the while knowing that, no matter what, we won’t stop loving them. At the same time, they’re people in whom we can see ourselves—the families we’ve made and the losses we’ve suffered, the beauty of old dreams and new promises. In loving them, we come to better love and appreciate ourselves, in the way that only the best literature makes possible.
(Also, all the men are hot. And the women are badasses. And the sexual tension [and its eventual resolution] is better than almost any I’ve read. So there’s that.)
It’s been over a decade since that first fated meeting with Nora Roberts. In those years I’ve read more books than I can count, from romance to fantasy to acres of literary fiction. My list of favorite books and authors has evolved, reflecting the changes in my life as I moved into the complicated world of adulthood. In all that time, I’ve never wavered from this overwhelming affection I have for the work of the Great Author Roberts.* I hope that, if she ever reads this, she’ll know that the Quinn brothers and their women, and so many of her other characters, live on beyond the pages of her books. And isn’t that wonderful?
* The Princess Bride reference, anyone?