For much of the decade since the last Sam & Rick book, Suzanne Enoch has pretty much specialized in Scottish Highlander romances. Her last two series have been set or populated with wild Highlanders in the Regency period. Barefoot in the Dark takes all the contemporary fun and suspense of those historical romances and sets them in a historical setting -- a village in the Scottish Highlands complete with a drafty ruined castle.
Considering the fact that this is the first book in the series in a decade, I was happy to see that Sam and Rick were still relatively the same. I'd say it took a chapter or two to get settled back into their old banter, but by the middle of the book, every piece of the plot and all the characters are trucking along.
Something that might be jarring to those of us readers who read the books a decade is that while we're picking up two weeks after A Touch of Minx, Barefoot is set in contemporary times so there are references to Outlander (the TV series), a 2015 Honda Civic (I drive a 2009 Civic so this made me ridiculously happy), and even Downton Abbey. It jarred me a bit and took me a little out of the setting only because I had read the books when they were originally published. If you're a returning reader like me, just be aware of this. People who are newer to the series probably won't even blink.
This book had relatively low stakes--no one is trying to blow Rick and Sam up, slice them through with a sword, or making them commit a multi-million dollar theft from a museum. For the first time, we're solidly in Rick's territory. It's his castle and his family--his history we're steeped in for most of the book. I'm sure most readers have wondered about Sam's mother (and I'm sure we'll get something more about that at some point) but must of us didn't think of about Rick's.
I'm actually really happy that we got a more character-driven plot with ghosts and long-lost treasure to reorient ourselves to Rick and Sam. I remarked in my review of Minx that I wondered how these two would do with an engagement and predicted it would be rocky.
There were some definite bumps and bruises that told me that Sam is actually not the problem--Rick is. He's very carefully trying to handle Sam all the time--he approaches things with the same precision he might approach a business deal. He tries to plan for all eventualities, predict all the ways she might react, and it's probably exhausting. It also makes a lot of sense and was useful early in their relationship but it's like a part of Rick is still pretty sure something is going to scare Sam off. I'm looking forward to seeing what is really going to convince him all the way down.
The supporting cast is great -- we get a return of some of the usual suspects, Stoney and Tom, as well as Rick's family. I liked his aunt and uncle--they're a bit stuffy but they're British upper class and they warm up by the end. The fact Mercia ends up loving Stoney is a huge point in her favor. His cousin Reg and his girlfriend Eerika work great as antagonists, and there's a small piece of me that likes Reg and hopes he finds someone better. I like exploring the dynamics of Rick's family and how he juggles his massive success with relationships with his family.
The plot of the buried treasure was good, and I liked the resolution. I found myself as frustrated as Sam that Rick was being so cagey, so maybe if we'd gotten a more clear POV of Rick's motives, that would have helped. I think it was halfway through before we learned Rick had made a promise not to tell the truth. Once everything gets clearer, it works just fine.
This is a great return to the world of Samantha Jellicoe and I can't wait to see where it goes next.