Escape and Freedom by Claire Highton-Stevenson is a delightful romance about healing old wounds and finding love when you think it’s no longer a possibility.

Lucy Owens is at the brink of international stardom as her band is about to embark on its first American tour. She is living her dream with her first love, at her side. In the blink of an eye, her world comes crashing down. She loses everything and leaves England to escape the painful memories. She relocates to Lake Tahoe to lead a solitary life in a cabin on the shore. Her guilt and pain keep her isolated, and on her infrequent trips into town for groceries, she keeps her head down and doesn’t speak to anyone. After a decade, she still isn’t ready to rejoin society.

Haunted by years of physical and emotional abuse, Nicole Granger has arrived at the lake with her three young daughters to escape a violent marriage. All she wants is a place where she can raise her children in safety, but she is constantly looking over her shoulder in fear that her husband will find them.

When Nicole’s oldest daughter Storm, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the town’s odd recluse, both Lucy and Nicole find they are inexplicably drawn to each other. Can they overcome their painful pasts and find freedom in a shared future?

The Characters

Lucy and Nicole are wonderfully complex characters. Each of them is weighed down with pain and guilt over their pasts. Rather than portraying them as damaged women or as victims of their circumstances, Highton-Stevenson imbues them with a quiet strength, which is the driving force that brings them together.

Lucy is stuck. She has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. When her world crumbles, she can’t move forward. She languishes in hopelessness and finds it impossible to shake her past. I never thought of her as a victim or wallowing in her depression in a self-indulgent way. It takes the naivete of a little girl to nudge Lucy back onto the road to emotional recovery. With a renewed hope, Lucy is able to feel compassion and empathy for Nicole and herself. Nicole and her daughters quickly open Lucy’s heart, and Lucy blossoms, surrounded by their sincere joy and gratitude. I loved watching Lucy turn into a lioness that would go to any length to protect her newfound family. The icing on the cake was seeing Lucy allow herself to be vulnerable and share her story with Nicole.

Nicole is my favorite type of character in romance novels. She’s a mother first, and her primary concern is the welfare of her daughters. She is courageous and determined. When the reader meets her, she is battered both physically and emotionally. Despite being scared out of her mind at what her husband might do to her, she makes the choice to flee her abusive marriage. When she meets Lucy, Lucy immediately notices the sadness lurking behind her eyes. I think Lucy sees herself in that pain, and it is part of why she is drawn to Nicole. Little by little, Nicole regains her confidence, and her vivaciousness. Nicole sees Lucy for who she is, not who she was. She sees security in Lucy and an unconditional love that she has wanted her entire life.

The Writing Style

The plot unfolds naturally. The book begins with a rush of euphoria around Lucy’s impending international stardom. When the trajectory of her journey is forever altered, the story immediately slows to reflect how Lucy has withdrawn from life. The introduction of Nicole and her daughters into the narrative is charged with emotional urgency, and the threat to their safety is always simmering in the background of the story. Once Lucy and Nicole recognize they share inherent truths about who they are, the plot provides situations that encourage each woman to rely on the other and they continually rise to the occasion. Once this happens, their relationship falls together effortlessly, and they become a couple that can meet any menace that might jeopardize Nicole or her children.

The Pros

The relationship between Lucy and Nicole’s daughter Storm is one of the most delightful things about this book. Storm’s natural curiosity and innocence is so sweet that Lucy can’t help but respond to the little girl’s interest. Storm is wise beyond her years, but she is also traumatized. Lucy can see that in herself. The bond that quickly develops between them brings a sense of safety to Storm, and it brings out the best in Lucy. Some of their exchanges are so tender, they had me welling up with tears.

The Cons

Trigger warnings: As described in the synopsis, there are themes of spousal and child abuse, some of which we see in flashbacks.

victorias favourite booksThe Conclusion

This book is beyond charming. Lately, I’ve been on a warm and cuddly romance kick, and Escape and Freedom definitely belongs in that category. It was an absolute pleasure to read. It’s the kind of story that makes my heart glow with happiness. Lucy and Nicole are so in sync that they could practically finish each other’s sentences. With the addition of three precious little girls, this book is a delight. The story has its dark moments, but of course, love conquers all. I simply love this story, and I hope you do too.

Excerpt from Escape and Freedom by Claire Highton-Stevenson

“Sit,” Lucy demanded gently when she finally stood in front of her.

Storm sank gingerly onto her knees and looked up at Lucy, biting on her bottom lip. Her big brown eyes were so full of questions and apprehension. She looked as though she was about to be scolded and was preparing herself for it.

“How what?” Lucy asked again, her voice softer now as she studied the child. Storm relaxed, understanding instantly that she wasn’t in trouble and there wouldn’t be a punishment.

Storm studied her face once more. Slowly she lifted her finger to Lucy’s cheek. Lucy’s first reaction was to flinch, and Storm instantly pulled her hand away, but Lucy nodded and jutted her chin out.  Storm concentrated, her tongue poked out between her teeth, and as she gently touched the scar tissue she asked, “How did you get this?”

Lucy sat very still, her heart beating wildly, and allowed this young girl to gently explore her. It was a first. It confused her how easily she had allowed it. Only medical personnel had ever touched the scar on her face; she had even stopped her own mother from doing so. She wondered why this girl–no older than 8 or 9, maybe younger–how had she managed to sneak through her defenses so easily.

“I was in an accident,” she mumbled. Gulping air, she tried to swallow it down. It was the first time she had told another person in over 10 years.

“What kind of an accident?” Storm asked, still innocently investigating the line that drew its way jaggedly from her left eyebrow and down her cheek almost to the corner of her mouth. Lucy placed her hand on the child’s fingers and pulled them gently away from her face, taking deep breaths that were becoming faster and harder to control.

“This is why I don’t talk, too many questions,” Lucy said too quickly as Storm tried to decide whether she should keep talking or not.

“I have a scar too,” Storm blurted out, looking at Lucy. “On my arm.”

“That’s nice, did you fall over roller skating?” Sarcasm dripped from Lucy’s voice. She was starting to feel uncomfortable now. She could feel her heart racing, the blood pumping hard, cortisol flooding her system as her fight or flight instincts began to push to the fore.

Silence passed between them. Lucy watched her as she tried to decide something, her little face frowning while her eyes misted a little.

“No…my daddy dragged me away from Mommy and broke my arm.” She looked away for a moment before turning back to Lucy. “I had to have an operation and have a plate put in,” she divulged sadly as she held up her arm, so the scar was visible to the woman. “It’s held together with tiny pins.”

Lucy froze at the words. My daddy broke my arm. She turned back and looked at the girl. “I’m sorry that happened to you.” And in that moment, she realized that this little girl had more in common with her than anyone else she had known in the last 10 years. This young kid understood pain and loss as much, if not more than she did. And what about the mother? Was this why she always looked so sad when she thought nobody was looking?

“Me too, it hurt a lot,” Storm continued, trying to smile, but the sadness was too evident. “Mommy says we all have scars even if they are not visible, that some people carry them in their heart.”

Lucy nodded. “Your mum sounds like a very wise lady.

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