When Samantha, an established-yet-struggling actress, comes home to act as maid-of-honor in her sister’s wedding, the family unabashedly tries to pair her with the best man, Ethan, her teenage crush and now a local war hero.
Samantha is the oldest Castle, and while her two sisters found true love in quick succession, she’s in New York with a struggling acting career and no Mr. Right on the horizon. Coming home to Sand Castle Bay, N.C., for youngest sister Emily’s wedding, Samantha is continually thrown in the path of Ethan Cole, local football champion–turned–war hero. Samantha had a huge high school crush on Ethan but is surprised to learn he lost a leg in Afghanistan, and his then-fiancee abandoned him soon after. Spending time with him now, Samantha realizes what a wonderful man he is, but the association is tainted by the humiliating lengths her family is going to in order to get them together. And while Ethan is a great and honorable man, his post-war romantic experience has left him gun-shy and determined to avoid relationships. At a crossroads in her own life, Samantha has to decide whether she’s going to stay in Sand Castle Bay or go back to her sputtering career in New York—and what her hopes are with Ethan. The two navigate insecurities and misunderstandings as they fall in love and fight for their happily-ever-after. Woods' latest is slightly off-key. Great writing and deft characterization can’t save a thin romantic conflict, and the more Ethan clings to his “I’ve given up on love” position, the less heroic he becomes. Some secondary storylines offer similarly shrill undertones that denote a disturbing lack of communication, unrealistic expectations and waffling with annoying justification. Still, in the end, love conquers all in satisfying ways for everyone concerned, and this ties up a few loose ends for the trilogy.
Not Woods’ best, but a smoothly written, beach-themed story with a happy ending helps forgive the weaknesses.