Dear Mrs. Bylin,
Until recently, Readers looking for a western set, historical romance have had to hunt. Now there seems to be a growing number to feed our need for American historicals on the western frontier. But while some still feature the standard gunslinger, yours offers something different. A Bible slinging hero who’s already fallen to his lowest and a heroine who mistrusts religion.
Adie Clark runs a boarding house in Denver, Colorado and, up til now, has stuck to her policy of only renting to women. Adie’s known what it is to be a woman alone, with little money and few prospects. So when a gaunt man collapses on her front porch in the middle of the night, her first thought is to get rid of him quickly. But he’s not a drunk and offers her twice the normal rent to be allowed to stay. Needing the money for the mortgage payment, Adie reluctantly agrees to a week stay.
Events take a turn when one of Adie’s mistrustful boarders shoots the man in the shoulder when she feels threatened by him. Now Adie’s stuck with him and terrified that the longer he stays, the more chance that her secret will come out. Joshua Blue is from Boston, as was Adie’s deceased friend Maggie. He’s a preacher, as was Maggie’s brother and he’s searching for his sister whom his harsh words drove from their wealthy life when she confessed her unwed pregnancy to him. Maggie died in childbirth and with her dying words, she entrusted her newborn son to Adie. Could Reverend Blue be Maggie’s brother?
Adie dares not risk him discovering that her infant “son” isn’t really hers for fear she’ll lose the boy. But Joshua is clearly a man in torment who has spent the last year searching for his sister and her child. Is it right for her to withhold what she now knows to be the truth? And as these two wounded people grow closer, could she face a future with a man who lives a lifestyle she’s turned her back on?
With an ordained minister for a hero, I knew this book would probably be coated with religion and it is. Readers who don’t want to hear about Joshua or Adie’s religious beliefs, or lack of same, together with their struggles to reconcile said beliefs, or lack of same, to their lives would do well to choose another book. But I personally find Joshua to be the kind of tormented hero I enjoy finding in romance novels.
Joshua life was exactly as he wanted it. Wealth, influence, a growing congregation in Boston and an unwed sister who could act as his hostess and deflect female interest from his dedication to religion. But too late he discovers that he never really knew his sister nor considered her needs. Nor was he willing to help her when she needed it most. His reaction to her news haunts him and his immediate choice to throw stones at her reveals to him the cracks in his facade.
After she flees, he realizes what he’s done and undergoes a spiritual examination that humbles him but the damage is done. His beloved sister is alone out west somewhere and he needs to find her for her sake as well as his own. It’s this broken man who appears in Denver. He’s a man who has learned not to be “holier than thou,” who has been afflicted and tried and who struggles daily to be a better man for it.
I find I like Joshua far more than I usually care for tormented heroes since he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He knows his flaws, has accepted them and works to correct them. He doesn’t seek to place the blame on others for his actions nor does he immediately think the worst of others, as so many romance heroes will do. He’s spent the last year ministering to those outcasts he’s met along the way as well as finally kicking his addiction to laudanum.
After his, very swift might I add, recovery from the gunshot wound, Joshua begins preaching in a saloon on Sundays, charms the other women at the boarding house and begins to see the problems facing them. One young woman is pregnant from rape and the persistence of her attacker serves as the outside source of conflict. A wealthy banker, he makes life difficult for Adie as well since he wants her house for investment purposes.
Franklin Dean is a fairly standard evil villain who masks his true character from most while using his position to intimidate. I found myself skipping most of his scenes as I was more interested in how the other characters would deal with his poison than I was in him. The wedge he’s driven between Pearl, the young woman, and her minister father seemed to be too easily overcome by a short conversation with Joshua about Bible passages. The fact that her father would believe a man he’s barely met rather than his supposedly beloved daughter plus daddy’s quick 180 in the face of months of shunning her bothered me. But, their realistic acceptance of the fact that they’d have to be sly about getting the truth of the situation widely know, and their way of doing so, helped balance my views of them.
Joshua finds his quick success for Pearl coming up short in his relationship, or his hopes of a relationship, with Adie. His interest in her survives the fairly early revelation that Adie concealed the fact that she knew his sister and now has his nephew. Personally, I would have been more than a little hot at the knowledge that Adie would have let me wander off still searching for my sister and her child while all the time she knew the truth. The fact that Joshua quickly assures Adie that he’ll let her adopt his nephew and the fact that later he was going to leave Stephan with Adie when he returned to Boston boggled my mind as well. Yes, Adie clearly loves the boy and is obviously overcome with guilt at what she almost did but this is his nephew and only child of his now dead sister and he’s going to just going to walk off?
Once this issue is out in the open Joshua discovers more roadblocks on the way to a HEA with Adie. He’s a minister and knows it’s not something he can turn from. His calling, and beliefs, are a deep part of him. He’s never been tempted to marry before but Adie changes that despite the fact that she seemingly despises religion. Or is it just the religious people in her life, up until now, who have failed her?
Adie’s had some hard knocks in life and has some real reasons to hate a few people. Her struggles to believe what Joshua tells her about forgiveness are heartfelt. His gentle reminders that only those without faults can cast stones stings her. The knowledge that as his wife, she’d have to work almost as hard in his church as he would grieves her as she can’t see herself being able to. The conflict between them is hardly faux and is one that you took down to the wire before resolving.
The way that you make sure that Joshua stays true to himself in the face of temptations to do otherwise is one of the strengths of the book. The man walks the walk. The manner in which you work out Adie’s issues with religion without steamrolling her into changing her character impressed me. When she says she’s come to peace with her past and can let it go, I believe her. I can see these two having an interesting life in the ministry they’ve chosen. And I will admit to being charmed that Joshua wants time to properly court Adie just for the fun of doing it.
The other women at the boarding house have stories that beg to be told but I didn’t get the “here comes a series” feel during this book. I hope to have a chance to check out future entries and would give this one a solid B grade.