Redeeming a rogue can be very difficult if an author paints the guy as despicable and doesn’t give a good enough back story to make his errant behavior seem reasonable. Such a rogue is Cloud Ryder, the love interest in this novel.
Cloud is like sailors who have a girl in every port; instead, he has a girl in every town and outpost he’s visited in the American West. He counts on widows (and some married women) throwing themselves at him. He’s been a soldier and a guide for the past few years and now thinks it might be time to settle down and work the land he bought with his brother. All he has to do is find the right girl. How he goes about securing the woman of his dreams is what I found most objectionable in this book.
Boston born and bred, the unmarried Emily Brockinger is traveling west to be with her older brother when the wagon train is attacked and everyone is killed except her and a little boy. After burying the dead, she sets off across the arid plain with the boy, a mule burdened with their worldly goods, and her trusty parasol.
Looking out across the expanse from a rise, Cloud spots her dogged trek with the boy strapped to her back and her parasol held high. He can’t believe his eyes. She must be a mirage. Coming closer, Cloud ascertains that she is real and rides toward her. When he gets a good look at her, he’s poleaxed and wants to have sex with her immediately.
He doesn’t, but he’s pleased when the toddler calls her Mama. As far as Cloud is concerned, she’s his for the taking since she’s a widow. Emily is shocked when he says he’ll be happy to take them across the plains and over the mountains only if she will share his pallet every night until they reach their destination. Emily refuses and I applauded her. However, Cloud rides away, making Emily rethink her predicament. Suddenly, virginity doesn’t look so precious if she ends up dying in the middle of nowhere. She relents and they set off.
Cloud discovers the truth the first night, but doesn’t relent about her sharing his bed. Thus, my problem with Cloud as a hero began. Cloud doesn’t fare much better as the book progresses. Emily meets many of Cloud’s other bed partners at each outpost and rest stop, often to the women’s harsh comparisons and derision as she and Cloud travel westward. Even hearing from James, Cloud’s friend who joins up with them, that Cloud is basically a good man doesn’t change my opinion of him, but it does help bring Emily around to loving him.
Unsurprisingly, Emily arrives at her brother’s house pregnant, and Cloud rides off to his land, intent on making plans for himself and Emily—without telling her that he considers them a couple and intends to marry her. Meanwhile, Emily’s brother has chosen a fiancé for her, a banker to whom he owes money.
The book dives into melodrama from there. Emily escapes her brother’s house on foot with the child with the intention to walk to Cloud’s ranch. As she nearly reaches it, Cloud intercepts her and says they are getting married the next day. Then the fiancé shows up at the church in the middle of the marriage ceremony and declares Emily is his. And this is only the start of the fiancé’s dastardly plans.
Compromised Hearts is a textbook example of old school romance featuring a hero who isn’t worthy of the heroine, the kind of romance those who’ve never read one deride.