An untamed outlaw who turned his back on all his wild ways for the woman who chose to love him share an epic Western saga romance spanning decades and defying the odds against them. It was raw, gritty, all-consuming, and quite possibly one of the best books I’ll ever read. This three part story begins with the meeting, continues with the early years and finishes many years later after joy, tragedy, happiness, loss, and abiding love weave together. I sobbed, I smiled, and I laughed, but mostly I sat amazed at this powerful Western Historical Romance.
This was my third book by this author and each time I have sat in awe of her mastery over this genre. I’ve read others that I love, but these raise the bar even higher. I know this author has been around a while, but I’m grateful to Sourcebooks for reissuing her stories so that I was introduced to a fast-favorite.
The story opens with Miranda Hayes burying her father on the Kansas prairie after raiders hit their farm outside Kansas City. They took all the livestock and items of importance and killed her father while she was away visiting. There is really no reason left to stay since she is alone. She is determined to sell the farm and follow her brother west to Virginia City which was the last place she received a letter. A trip into town for supplies leads her to an encounter with known outlaw, Jake Harkner, when a bounty hunter catches up with him and they shoot it out. Miranda does the unthinkable when she instinctively draws her Derringer and shoots Harkner. He gets away and she is lauded as a hero. She doesn’t feel like a hero knowing full well that he chose not to shoot her when he could have and he denied the more brutal charges on the wanted poster.
Miranda discovers to her surprise and dismay that the outlaw chose her farm to hide and recuperate. She is confused by her feelings and by the opposing desires to turn him in and take care of him. Jake doesn’t make it easy. He makes it clear that he may not have done the worst stuff, but he is no innocent either. He is like a wild, injured animal that watches her warily and doesn’t like to show a soft side though he does in his moments of feverish weakness. She conceives of the audacious plan to have Jake take her to her brother, but Jake refuses and leaves because he’s terrified of the feelings forming between them and knows he’s not good enough.
Jake has lived a hardened life on the wrong side of the law and he has no idea what to do with the emotions he feels toward that strong, lovely lady who chose to help him heal and hid him from the authorities. He won’t drag her into his life. However, the guilt of knowing that she will be going off on her own to Nevada weighs heavily on him because he knows what she is up against and what bad men would do to a beauty like her. Against his sense of self-preservation and judgment, he goes after Miranda to protect her on her way to find her probably worthless brother.
On the hard, dangerous journey, Jake and Miranda forge a bond and a love that sees them through the desert, illness, attacks, unscrupulous men, and Jake’s past. Just when they seem to have made it, Jake’s past catches up with him just like he feared and now they both have to display a strength they didn’t know they had.
I want to use all superlatives as I talk about this book. I was so caught up in this story and long afterward, I still am. Jake’s life was heartbreaking and it was amazing that there were any tender feelings left in him after growing up with the abuse he took and being raised by an evil fiend only seeing a brutal, outlaw upbringing and life with no kindness or love. Miranda’s was a life of loss and tough as a result, but she is this enduring, hope-filled woman who stands strong for Jake. Her care and love are his first encounter with good. He wants it desperately, but doesn’t want to break her or contaminate her by his bad. They have a hard life. The author doesn’t pull any punches or try to romanticize what it’s like for an outlaw to reform. The consequences from Jake’s past are there and tragically affect him and Miranda and others for the rest of their lives. It was magnificent how the author balanced this hard, gritty life with the deep, loyal love so that there was light mixed with dark.
The historical setting and times were authentic and fantastic in the breadth of the descriptions of post-Civil war American West, the journey over the Oregon Trail and all the points of the west where Jake and Miranda called home. The surrounding characters added color and richness to the story. The activities from Mining Town life, Ranch life and life on the run, and more were amazing. The author really knows her stuff.
As to the romance itself, Jake and Miranda are not shy and I enjoyed that they are mature in how they approach their relationship and life. They are tempestuous in their encounters as their strengths both conflict and mesh together. The attraction is strong between them, but tempered by outside influences and social mores of the time. But when they do come together, its a thing of beauty. Miranda is a widow so she isn’t ignorant, but Jake’s experiences with women are well beyond her own. That said, Miranda matched Jake’s needs with an openness that made their passion soar. Through all the hardships they endure, their love was this amazing thing that stayed true no matter what.
This was a longer story that takes place over many years and even into their middle years. I loved that. Many stories end with marriage, but this one was barely a fourth of the way along when the marriage took place and it ends over twenty years later. I haven’t read a family saga like this in a long time and this one reminded me of what I’ve been missing.
In the end, I am left with a thirst for more of this story which thankfully has a follow-up sequel and definitely I will be hunting down more from this author. I highly recommend this story to those who want a magnificent and authentic gritty, sensual Western Historical Romance.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.