REVIEW: Stages of the Heart by Jo Goodman
Experience has taught Laurel to be suspicious of the men who pass through Morrison Station. She’s been running the lucrative operation that connects Colorado’s small frontier town of Falls Hollow with the stagecoach line since she inherited it from her father, and she’s not about to let some wandering cowboy take over the reins. But newcomer McCall Landry isn’t just any gunslinger. He seems to genuinely care for Laurel, and with his rugged good looks and mysterious past, he could be the one man to finally tempt her off track…
Call Landry doesn’t expect much from Falls Hollow. He doesn’t expect much from anything anymore. But Laurel Morrison took him by surprise when she put in a good word for him, a virtual stranger, after the stagecoach was robbed–and she keeps taking him by surprise. Charmed by her clever wit and fierce loyalty, Call finds himself falling hard. Now all he has to do is convince her he means to stay–in her bed, in her life, and in her heart.
Dear Ms. Goodman,
Every Spring I look forward to your latest novel. “Stages of the Heart” goes back in time a little bit from the recent “Frost Falls” books to another small Colorado town nearby. Falls Hallow is on the stagecoach route from Denver to Stonechurch (which has also been in previous books). The railroad is coming sooner rather than later and which route is chosen to lay the tracks will make a big financial difference. But before that is decided, the issue of the stolen mine payroll needs to be solved and two people will need to decide if they’re in love and what they’re going to do about it.
The women in your novels are strong and Laurel Beth Morrison is no exception. After her father and two brothers were gunned down in a robbery, she’s run the Morrison stagecoach station. With suspicions pointing to a payroll robbery having been done at her business, she not only wants but needs to clear her name. What surprises her is the return of Call Landry to investigate. He’s a stranger to the area but maybe that’s what the powerful mine owner is counting on. It isn’t long before the two of them are circling each other with more than finding the missing money on their minds. When an unexpected body turns up, will it crack the case or confuse things further?
The mystery begins before the romance gets going and at first it has the earmarks of a head scratching “who dunnit” as well as “how on earth was it done.” Call has his work cut out for him as there are many accomplice suspects, no evidence, no one was supposed to know the money was on the stage, and a cold trail for the one person everyone is pretty sure is involved. I figured out a few things but the final wrap up had to wait for some villain and hero exposition at the end. When all was finished, it made sense but was, to be honest, a bit of a let down.
The romance is of the “slow burn” variety. On her side, Laurel has had men pay attention to her in the past but she soon figured out it was for what she owned rather than who she was. Her reluctance to completely believe Call when he says he wants to stay in town and court her is believable. Her protestations that she doesn’t care to be married or that she is indifferent to people knowing that they are having a physical relationship seems a little off as this is 1872 in a small town and part of whether or not she gets the railroad contract depends on her character and integrity. As much as we modern women may bemoan the strict moral standards women were historically held to, they still were.
Call on the other hand, is fairly upfront from the start in telling Laurel that he’s interested in her and that even if she isn’t thinking of courting, he just might be. Oh, and the idea of marriage isn’t sending him running either. He believes in the right of a woman to have orgasms and assiduously works to be sure Laurel gets them. He also loves a strong woman even if sometimes Laurel’s determination to take a hand in the investigation worries and irritates him.
I had to laugh at the fact that it’s Call who ends up in a snit at one point of their sometimes contentious relationship but at least he’s open in telling Laurel why he’s mad and this in turn gets her to be more open and communicative. The secondary characters are great and are given rounded personalities that make them real rather than cardboard. And as with so many of your books, the marriage proposal is lovingly set up and executed.
“I can make a better proposal,” he said at last.
“You’ll have to.”
“Do you have some thoughts about what you’d like hear or how you’d like to hear it?”
“No. I never imagined it.”
“All right. Bended knee or standing?”
“Standing. I don’t think I could bear seeing you on your knees.”
“It’d only be the one knee.”
“Doesn’t make it any better.”
“Standing, then. Flowers?”
“Yes. Like the ones you brought me this evening.”
“Of course. Indoors? Outdoors?”
“Public or private?”
“You know the answer to that. Private.”
“Just making certain. Promises?”
“All of them, I suppose. I want you to promise me everything.”
“I can do that.”
She nodded. “What do you want from me?”
“I want you to say yes.”
Laurel smiled faintly as she turned her head toward him. “I can do that,” she whispered. “I promise you I can do that.”
The pace of the story moves a little slowly and I might have wished for less end-of-the-book exposition to wrap up the mystery. Fans who are more interested in a strong heroine + strong and caring hero romance will probably enjoy this more. B-