Bound for Temptation
Tess LeSue’s Frontiers of the Heart series adds a new heroine to root for in Bound for Temptation.
Madame Seline is, at long last, a rich woman. Having established three brothels in the California gold fields she’s been run out of Mokelumne Hills by Hec Boehm and his gang of thugs for refusing to give in to his demands to sell her business (or her body) to him. Instead, she plans to sell all three brothels to various girls who’ve worked for her over the years, and then to retire to a genteel life in San Francisco with the money she’s made, far away from the men who’ve made her fortune but also made her life hell. With a flick of a pen, she reclaims the name and life she rejected twelve years before – Emma Jane Potter – and disguises herself as a nun in order to leave town without being caught by Hec or his men.
Tom Slater is a cattleman whose life is normally much more wearisome than it is exciting. Running away from home and his old feelings for his brother Luke’s new bride Alex (in book one Bound for Eden), he’s been on a cattle drive for months when he hears through the grapevine that the bounty on the head of his friend Deathrider has just been increased and there’s a posse riding ever nearer to claim it. After months away, Tom is keen to keep Deathrider and Micha (Deathrider’s companion) safe, but things are complicated by the fact that Deathrider, at the behest of Tom’s brothers, has been passing himself off as Tom after faking his own death (in book two, Bound for Sin) which, now that Tom is back from the trail, places him in danger. When Emma – now disguised as a nun – rides into town with a wagonload of fancy gowns and her best friend and fellow working girl Calla, she meets up with Deathrider (an old friend and regular customer), and he agrees to help get her and Calla to Mexico. Before they can leave they find themselves intervening in the lives of Anna and Winnie, a girl working at the general store and her ward, and the twosome join their party. Deathrider agrees to lie about Emma’s circumstances. Being the honorable guy he is, Tom agrees to escort the party – and is horrified to find himself attracted to the not-very-holy Sister Emma. Emma, who was once as in love with Tom’s brother Luke as Tom was with Alex, soon finds herself falling for Tom in ways his brother never inspired.
Soon Tom, Deathrider, ‘Sister Emma’ and their group of travelers find themselves on the run from California to Mexico and freedom, dodging two posses and trying to keep their bellies full while fleecing, outriding and outrunning banditos along the way. Tom and Emma start falling in love, lying all the way about their pasts, to the point that Tom really believes Emma is a nun. Will they keep their heads and money with them? Or are they destined for a crash?
Bouncing between being funny, romantic and appealingly entertaining, and unflinchingly portraying the ugly underbelly of the old west, Bound for Temptation is a pretty delightful ride, although its few flaws keep it from DIK status. But if you’ve ever watched Two Mules for Sister Sarah, it’s going to be an amusing ride for you.
I loved Emma’s gumption; she’s whip smart, she’s going to get her house and she’s not going to let Hec kill her. She always has a scheme or a plan, but she’s fair and kind – well, to a degree.
Tom is the best kind of hero – a nice guy who wants an ordinary life and is stuck throwing up his hands in exasperation in the general direction of his friends. And his friends are wonderfully ridiculous.
Tom and Emma are easy to root for, but their lives are overcomplicated by the sheer metric ton of lies Emma has to tell in order to keep her cover and bury her past. She should, perhaps, have told Tom much earlier that she slept with his brother before they knew each other (way back in the first book).
I loved Deathrider’s confident, laconic reaction to the storm building around him, and his obsession with terrible, cheesy sci-fi dime novels. Calla’s yearning to be seen as a lady and not just a prostitute is well done, and little Winnie isn’t just a moppet. Unfortunately, the more moralistic Anna tended to blend into the background in comparison to the larger-than-life characters around her. Deathrider, meanwhile, is tough and bright, and clearly in line to be the next hero of the series.
In terms of the plot, the journey is cleverly plotted and far reaching; slut-shaming and anti-native biases are discussed and firmly rejected by our heroes.
On the negative side, however, the book is hard to jump into without having read the rest of the series, and there are a couple of logic gaps, chief of which is this – why does Emma name the bakery she eventually opens Seline’s when she wants to shed that part of her life? Her choice of name forces her to repeatedly tell everyone that she’s not Seline anymore, and causes the town they’ve settled in to shun her. This is a smart woman who thinks ahead and does it successfully most of the time, but that was a bit of a lulu.
But even with its logic gaps, Bound for Temptation is a rip-roaring adventure that’s pretty captivating.