REVIEW: Dangerous Hearts by Stefanie Keith
When schoolteacher Rebecca Sims ventures up on Hazel Mountain in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia to check on one of her young students, she is warned that this can be a very dangerous place to be for a beautiful young woman on her own. After being stranded on the mountain with a handsome and dangerous moonshiner and bootlegger named Jack Berry, she soon finds herself to be a “ruined woman” in the eyes of the townspeople and is forced into a shotgun wedding.
Facing angry relatives, nosy revenuers, armed killers and hot, steamy romance, Rebecca discovers that true love sometimes come wrapped in one very dangerous package.
Dear Ms. Keith,
As this is a shorter novel – almost a novella – the action gets started immediately. Rebecca Sims is a 28 year old woman in her first months as a teacher in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the early 1930s. She’s come back to where her father grew up before he moved to Baltimore where she was raised. So though she knows a little about the area and people, she’s not a homegrown insider. But after a trip up the mountain seeking out a wayward pupil and her encounters with the silent and reserved people she meets, she’s coming to believe what her Uncle and Aunt have told her – strangers best be careful up here.
Her confidence is thrown even more by her student’s Uncle Jack – not because he doesn’t say much but because he says too much and subtly invades her space. Jack’s heard how pretty the new schoolteacher is – well it’s the talk of the mountain – but something in her calls to him to ruffle her a little just so he can sooth her down again. He knows there can be nothing between them as she’s an educated teacher – something the people here respect but which also causes them to hold teachers to a higher moral standard – and he’s got a wild streak as well as having been in prison for bootlegging. But while he’s here taking care of his abandoned and pregnant younger sister, he’ll enjoy riling her, just a little.
I think the details of the era are well done. Phones? Not here. Cars won’t go up the mountain but horses can. Billy is thrilled with the battered, slightly too large shoes Rebecca provides for him as he’s usually gone barefoot even in the colder autumn. Lanterns light these shabby cabins and stoves warm them. Death was at home, where you washed and laid out your own dead and then made a coffin for them. Rumors still travel as quickly though.
I like that Rebecca might be physically attracted to Jack, and he to her, but both are aware of the gulf between them. Also Rebecca initially refuses to believe that she might be forced to marry Jack just because of the few nights she spent at the Dobson cabin. After all, Emmy and her son Billy were there the whole time. Surely she can just leave, something she increasingly wants to do, and go back to Baltimore. But Rebecca hasn’t counted on her male relations or Jack.
These men believe they’re taking care of their women, even if today we probably see it more as controlling. Her Uncle might be stern but he’s determined Rebecca be treated right and proud Jack won’t take kindly to anyone implying he’d beat his wife or let her be worked to death by a hard life on the mountain. But how will he provide for her and the children if Rebecca refuses to allow him to make shine?
Jack wanted Rebecca from the moment he saw her but the only way to get a woman like her was by marriage. Just like a kid he perversely teased her and made her notice him. But in the time they spent together taking care of Emmy and the way Rebecca steps up to help around the cabin, Jack comes to admire her and respect her. Unfortunately, we’ve all read enough romance books to know the lies he’s told her Uncle to ensure that a marriage will take place will come back to haunt him.
Yes, well the truth comes out but what happens after that was a nice change from the usual. Rebecca stands up for herself and lets Jack know in no uncertain terms what she thinks of what he did and what she’ll make sure he does do to make up for it. Plus that making up for it will take a long time. I was impressed by Rebecca’s adult handling of what lead to her marriage – after all this was an era before divorce was socially acceptable – but I do hope she does hold Jack’s feet to the fire over it.
Overall, I enjoyed this story but the editing really needed to have been done better. Time skips months from October to January back to November then zips to March and in between one chapter and the next a month, no wait only two weeks, pass by. The baby’s name changes from Bradley to James once. Also in one place a dead man walks over and calms a horse before riding it down the mountain. Quite a feat! Usually I only find books set in this time frame to be inspies and this definitely isn’t that as Jack and Rebecca have a sex life most rabbits would envy. It would have been nice for Jack to have somehow gotten Rebecca the wedding she wanted but in lieu of that, the cocoa will just have to do. B-