When Mark Mateo first set eyes on Elena Fernandes in the small fishing village of Half Moon Bay, he knew that he had to make her his! The Portuguese daughter of a humble fisherman, Elena knew she was out of Mateo’s league, but that didn’t keep her from dreaming that perhaps someday her fondest wishes might come true and that Mark might actually look upon her as a woman he could spend his life with. When Mark invites her to his family’s annual Festival of the Grapes, Elena feels as though perhaps this is what she has been hoping for and that Mark is truly in love with her. But even though Elena and Mark share an intimate moment together and he promises that he will come and visit her soon after she returns to Half Moon Bay, weeks go past and Elena hears nothing from Mark.
When Delores Delgardo sees Elena while visiting Half Moon Bay, she is just who Delores has been searching for and she immediately offers Elena an opportunity she can’t pass up. Delores hires young, beautiful women to model the exquisite gowns she designs for her dress shop in Sacramento. She also provides them room and boarding in the hotel she owns. Delores tells Elena that her "job" will be to attend society parties and functions while wearing beautiful gowns and portraying a fun and carefree lifestyle. Since Elena hasn’t heard word from Mark and fears as though she has put a much greater importance on their relationship than he has, Elena agrees to go with Delores to Sacramento. After writing a brief, uninformative letter to her father and brother, Elena packs her bags and leaves.
Naturally, Mark picks the very day Elena leaves for Sacramento to come for Elena and discovers that she has gone. He vows to Elena’s father and brother that he will travel to Sacramento to find her and hopefully bring her home. After much aggravation and with a bit of luck, Mark does find Elena but he cannot fulfill his promise to her father and bring her back to Half Moon Bay. Elena would have willingly returned with Mark – but only as his wife and not to the life of endless chores and boredom she had at the little cabin with her father and brother. Conversely, Mark would have gladly offered marriage to Elena if he had known that was what she wanted, but he assumed that her new glamorous position and lifestyle in Sacramento was what was holding Elena back.
There are an abundance of characters in Golden Desire, from Mark and Elena’s families to the employees of the Golden Splendor vineyards and of Delores Delgardo’s dress shop, and I found all of them more interesting than the hero and heroine. Perhaps that is why Wanda Owen spent so much time giving us their background information and stories of their own, since Mark and Elena were rather dull. They met, they fell in love, they made love, they were separated but they eventually resolved their issues and got married – it was all rather predicable and uneventful.
Mark had an almost creepy thing for his mother. He repeatedly said over and over how he wouldn’t marry until he found someone just like her – I can see loving and respecting your mother, but that is a bit icky! Elena was supposed to be down-to-earth and sensible but once she saw the way Mark’s much wealthier family lived, she became very dissatisfied with her life of cooking and cleaning for her brother and father, thus resolving never to end up living the rest of her life in Half Moon Bay. It made her look like a greedy, grasping opportunist and did not endear her to this reader.
It is also questionable whether or not this historical romance accurately portrayed lifestyles of the time period. For instance, I would not have thought that wealthy society would invite hired models to their dinners and events for the purpose of seeing Delores Delgardo’s creations. Also, the subject of the differences between Elena and Mark’s backgrounds was barely touched upon and when she was hired to mingle in society, for a humble fisherman’s daughter she apparently had no trouble deporting herself with the upper crust of Sacramento. Elena also had no difficulty taking over the immense job of running a large estate once her and Mark were married, which I found rather unbelievable since she was given no instruction and had previously only taken care of a small cabin.
In summary, I would not recommend Golden Desire and I would also consequently be hesitant about reading any other novels by Wanda Owen in the future.