Once upon a time, Carolyn was the beautiful debutante who fell in love with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, but their Romeo and Juliet romance came to an end when her father had him arrested. But times have changed, and all the money that placed Carolyn's family on a golden pedestal has been squandered, leaving her in a mountain of her father's debt and working her fingers to the bone to keep them fed and clothed. Her father's recent heart attack hasn't made things any easier, but she's excelling in her work at the country club where she once danced the night away. But the past has come back to haunt her in the worst way now that the boy she once loved has returned as the club's new owner, intent on making big changes to keep things profitable.
But... Overall, the story was great and not nearly as predictable as one might expect. However, there was an additional point of view thrown in, presumably to introduce us more fully to a character who will be focused on in a subsequent book, and from a reader's perspective, it just didn't fit. The chapters that told things from Jane's point of view had little to do with rekindling things between Carolyn and Jake, and rather than add to the story, they detracted from it. While I liked Jane's character, her story should have been held aside for another book, and any important pieces could easily have been revealed in her interactions with Carolyn rather than detouring readers from the main plot for entire chapters. I have no idea what took place during editing, but it seems saving these chapters for later would have been a no-brainer.
The Verdict: It's been fifteen years since Carolyn and Jake last saw each other, and what a difference those years have made. Carolyn's mother has passed away, and her father's health is in jeopardy, while she works long hours at the only job that will have her. Once a member of the exclusive country club, she now referees employee spats and plans parties and events there, a far cry from the privileged life she once enjoyed. Her family's wealth disappeared with her father's financial advisor, and Carolyn is for the most part completely on her own with no one else on whom to lean when things go wrong — which they've been doing for years now.
Jake's arrest back in the day didn't ruin his life, but it certainly gave him a new perspective. Realizing he would never be good enough for the upper crust, he spent the years getting an education and working his way up in the business world. Now a success, he's returned to Briarwood to prove his worth, and while he may never truly fit into the old money world, he's no one to be looked down upon anymore.
I loved the initial reunion between Carolyn and Jake, proof that the years had changed them both and a reminder of the different worlds that pulled them apart. But what surprised me most was Jake's reaction to Carolyn. While he certainly still harbored some anger over the way things went down, he didn't hold it all against her, and he was quick to realize the financial predicament she was in. He could have lorded his success over her and made her feel like a lesser person now that she was struggling just to keep the refrigerator filled, but instead he saw how hard she worked and didn't do anything to make things more difficult for her.
Their relationship, once it was rekindled, was piping hot and filled with uncertainties, mostly because neither really seemed to know how to bridge the past and move fully into the present. Carolyn had too much on her plate to become involved with her new boss, and Jake had plenty of resentment to overcome. But rather than play completely into the romance novel cliches one might expect, Jake and Carolyn handled things a bit differently on their way to a new happily ever after, and that's what made it such an interesting read. While the additional chapters from another character's point of view got it the way too often, the root of the story was a great one. Second chance romances are always fun, given the established history between characters, and Once and Again did that well. I suspect that the next book in the series will be all about Jane, and I'm definitely interested in finding out what's next in her story.