This is not your typical frontier romance. It features an unfamiliar setting, a disfigured hero, a heroine who is emphatically not a virgin, and a sympathetic villain. In the hands of a lesser writer this combination would spell disaster, but Jill Marie Landis demonstrates once again that she is more than capable of crafting a marvelous story out of these unusual ingredients.
Noah LeCroix has hidden himself in a southern Illinois swamp since a river accident left its mark on him. The son of a French trapper and a Cherokee woman, he has spent most of his life alone, and prefers solitude to the company of others. He has no idea that he’s grown into something of a legend along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. When the beautiful Olivia Bond shows up near his cabin, too injured to move, he reluctantly takes her in. He fights against his attraction to her, but even when she tells him about herself it’s not enough to change the feelings that her entrance into his life has engendered.
Olivia was kidnapped by river pirates over a year ago, wrenched from her family and sold downriver to Darcy Lankanal, a New Orleans whoremonger. Darcy kept her locked up for that year as his personal pet before she managed to escape; now she’s desperate to find her family in the new settlement of Shawneetown. How is she going to explain to them what she’s become? Will they accept her now? She’s aware of Noah’s attraction to her, but reasons that he only wants her because he knows she’s a fallen woman, and she’s convinced her reaction to him must be because of her wanton nature. She can’t believe that Noah might find something fine in her, that he admires her strength and instinct to survive.
Meanwhile, Darcy is more than a little miffed that Olivia had the nerve to run away from him. He’s obsessed with her and refuses just to let her go; when word reaches him that she’s been sighted in Illinois, he sets out after her. A series of misadventures follows, caused by poor communication between all the characters, before the arrival at an HEA ending with a couple of charming twists.
I only wish I had been able to warm up to Olivia a bit more. She’s so protective of her family, and has such a low level of self-esteem, that she makes a couple of dumb mistakes which, while they’re totally plausible and in character, left me a little less than overwhelmed with admiration for her. I did feel for her, and I understood why she was doing what she was, but still…I enjoyed much more getting to know Noah. Watching him come out of his self-imposed isolation, warming up to Olivia’s two little brothers, learning to live with the notion that people liked and were in awe of him, was very entertaining.
Landis has often used fresh settings to good effect in her stories, and she does it here, too: the swamps and raw settlements of “Little Egypt” are well drawn. There’s a marvelous cast of secondary characters, from the Bond family to the citizens of Shawneetown, but most especially Darcy. He’s a totally charming villain who engages in some very non-villainous behavior. Landis seems to have gone out of her way to paint him in a halfway sympathetic light as a set-up for a sequel, and if that’s the case I can’t wait to read it!
The dialogue crackles; the sexual tension between Olivia and Noah is sustained from the first chapter straight through until the end of the book. If it weren’t for a heroine I found a little too confused and unsure of herself, Blue Moon would rank in my Landis pantheon with Come Spring and Last Chance. Oh, what the heck – the rest of the book is ample compensation for that one weakness. I guess I’ll hang on to my copy.