REVIEW: Without Words by Ellen O’Connell
Spoiler (Trigger Word): Show
Bounty hunter Bret Sterling kills Rufus Petty, thief and murderer, less than ten feet away from a frightened, half-starved woman. Rufus should have surrendered. The woman should have kin to help her. But Rufus went down shooting, and the woman has no one. Bret figures by the time he finds a safe place to leave Hassie Petty, he’ll earn the five hundred dollar reward several times over.
Hassie doesn’t mourn Rufus, but the loss of the ten dollars he promised her for supplies is a different matter. The bounty hunter gives her nothing, takes everything, ties the body on one horse and orders her on another. Afraid if she defies him, he’ll tie her down tighter than Rufus, Hassie mounts up and follows the icy-eyed killer.
Mismatched in every way, the sterling man and petty woman travel the West together, hunting thieves, deserters, and murderers. Wary traveling companions, friends and partners, lovers, Bret and Hassie must decide what they want, what they need, and the price they’re willing to pay for love.
Dear Ms. O’Connell,
I had always wanted to try one of your books and this one just struck me. I’d been thinking of reading a western as it had finally occurred to me that compared to other genres, I haven’t read too many of them this year and none since May. I’ve got to say I love the excerpt and think it shows Bret and Hassie to perfection.
Both are quiet people on the surface but with a lot going on if you care to dig a bit deeper. Bret works alone and has, of course, issues from his past that haunt him in post Civil War Missouri which, along with Kansas, saw so much hatred and misery. Hassie lost most of the use of her voice after a horrific accident as a child. But here’s the thing – they don’t complain, they just do. They survive and keep going.
Early on Bret likens some people to the type of horse that needs pampering while others are more like draft horses or toughened trail horses. It’s obvious from early on which type Bret and Hassie are. And just as neither is the type to babble their business much to strangers, information about them is carefully – almost delicately – revealed just when needed.
Insta-love or even insta-lust has no place in this book. Bret’s first impression of Hassie is of a scrawny woman old before her time while Bret’s cold actions in – needfully, it must be said – killing Hassie’s only kin-by-marriage-left-to-her terrifies her. But Bret’s actions towards the half starving trio – Hassie, her dog and her horse – he reluctantly brings along with him soon assure the reader, and eventually Hassie, that he’s a straight shooter, an honorable man in a world that is still stumbling back to that after the years of war.
The story begins in Missouri, travels to Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and back. This is a hardscrabble (I love that word, it’s so fitting here) world and one I’m delighted to see used. It seems that Texas and Wyoming are to Westerns like Dukes are to English historicals. It’s nice to see some other states featured for a change.
The reasons for their marriage amused me but then if I faced those circumstances I’d probably be willing as well. Usually the reasons a heroine gives to delude herself into thinking that sex with the hero is not only okay but downright mandated! make me roll my eyes. But here, by gum, you’ve got me on board and hoping Hassie will realize that she deserves any happiness she can get in her life. As Bret says later in contrast to another character, Hassie was born to be a happy soul and it delights me to see him try and make life even better for her.
All through the novel, there are hints and bits about Bret’s family and past life. So I knew even before he told Hassie in advance of them arriving there what they would likely face. If it had been me, that pack of ingrates would just see the dust of my departure blowing back down the road but in a world of slow travel, sketchy contact and haunted already by losses, I can understand why Bret still goes there and puts up with some of their selfishness. I did cheer when he told Daddy off about how they’d used the money he almost died to earn and send them. Bret never quite loses his edge, which is wonderful.
What I think I enjoyed most here was the slow, careful romance. The fact that neither of them is looking for more or hoping for rainbows makes the quiet realization of that love more powerful to me. Bret shows his changing feelings in the ways he acts rather than what he doesn’t say while Hassie is almost as surprised when she admits to herself that her feelings slipped into love at some point when she wasn’t even looking. By the end, their devotion is rock solid and built to last. Sigh… sorry that sounds like a Ford F150 truck ad. Anyway, I’m glad I finally read one of your novels and plan to make a habit of it. A-