I tried a book by this author once before and absolutely loved it so naturally when the opportunity came up, I enthusiastically grabbed this one for a read. The Historic Wild West in all its facets just comes alive in this author’s written word. Her ability to blend a nice spicy romance against the gritty settings and engaging plots is just a plus in this standalone story about a desperate, terrified woman seeking to lose herself in the West and the rough, capable, protective and yet gentle lawman that only wants her trust and her love.
The story opens with Emma Radcliffe, now stylizing herself as Elizabeth Wainwright, making her way on the last leg of her journey to the unknown, hoping to hide from the monstrous man seeking to pin the murder of her mother and theft of his so-called property on her. He is a beast and capable of unspeakable things so that even the fatiguing and scary journey to the even scarier, strange, wildness of Montana Territory has its appeal. That is until her stagecoach is held up, the other passengers and driver murdered and she about to be ravaged by a scruffy group of thieves. To her rescue, comes a man that she is unclear about whether he is much better when he shoots down three of the five men like vermin and leaves the other two weaponless and in their underwear while cuffed to the turned over stage. His description of himself and his appearance are less than flattering, but he is at least honest. He escorts her on to the town she was intending for her new home. She shies away from him wanting nothing to do with the big, ruthless vigilante though at the same time she is drawn to him and misses him when he’s not around. Elizabeth reluctantly accepts his aid to get established and is bewildered by her confused and conflicted feelings and thoughts when it comes to lawman, Mitch Brady.
Mitch is very aware that the young, naive beauty that he rescued is lying about so many things, but with that knowledge comes the additional truth that she is not a bad woman, but a scared one that has seen her fair share of trouble and misery. He helps her and advises her even when she stubbornly insists that she’ll be fine and can take care of herself. He has never felt the way he does about Elizabeth and struggles to understand the feelings he has for her all the while he has to keep his wits about him as the family of the robbers he brought in for hanging are set to get revenge on him.
I found the general plot and story to be a page-turner and engaged my interest and emotions from the beginning. The pace was good though I will contradict myself about that shortly. The setting of a mining town in Montana Territory and the raw justice served by the vigilantes was fascinating and a strong foundation for the story. The description of daily life in a mining town and the people that populated it was painted so well that I could picture it and feel I was there while reading. The plot tackles darker themes of sexual and physical abuse, murder and public hangings. Some may find this disturbing though it was handled in a detached and not hands-on sort of way.
As to the characters, Mitch was larger than life and the perfect hot-blooded, ruggedly handsome western hero that I love. He had depth too in that the author gave him a strong backstory and lots of description throughout the book for additional depth to his character. He was unapologetic about who and what he was and was honest with himself and then with Elizabeth about his feelings and wants. So refreshing! He put it all out there and was patient with Elizabeth’s hang-ups.
About her now, this is where I’m going to say something contrary about the pacing. The book was indeed well paced with the exception of Elizabeth’s internal monologue and rehashing of her fears about what was in her past and misconceptions that were a result of judging the West and its people by Eastern standards. Elizabeth had some truly awful things happen to her. Unfortunately, the damage from this causes an eighteen year old Elizabeth to judge all males the same way- potential abusers and thieves. She spent about sixty percent of the book mentally dithering over the same thoughts like her brain was on a hamster wheel. She had all the evidence she needed that Mitch was NOT her step-dad and neither were several other men and she even had several people including Mitch see right through her lies and assure her that whatever she was running from wouldn’t shock them because many people in town came from rough pasts, but, see here is where she showed her young age and how the trauma from her past held her emotionally hostage. She got stubborn and wouldn’t listen. Sigh… Elizabeth, for all her stubbornness, was a worthy heroine and so plucky to survive and thrive after what her life dealt her. She came alone to the untamed lands of Montana and determined to make a fresh start on very little.
The romance was slow to build mostly because Elizabeth was so cautious. Mitch’s love for her happened pretty quickly and he gently and firmly went after what he wanted. Their romance followed the social norms of the day though at a certain point I laughed when they basically said ‘chuck it’ and got down too it. Elizabeth without her caution was as eager as Mitch to have something together. Mitch had been a lonely man, orphaned and drifting since age six, so it was heartwarming to see him find a lovely woman who needed him and eventually accepted him as he was. They came together and were a convincing, passionate couple.
All in all, this was another splendid reading experience that carried me along both into the past and into these characters’ lives. Personally, I have plans to continue reading this author’s future work and check out her backlist of titles. I would definitely encourage Western Historical Romance fans to take this one up.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.