In a romance book landscape littered with paranormals and inane Regency-set historicals, it’s nice to enjoy a Western Romance read. It’s like drinking a tall glass of cool, crisp water. Loner’s Lady turned out to be a lovely character-driven romance in which plot holes, unfortunately, mar its grade.
As Bruce Springsteen belted in his memorable song Hungry Heart, “I went out for a ride and I never went back,” Irishman Dan O’Brian did exactly that one day. His young wife, Ellen, has struggled to keep up with their farm for the almost three years since. Though she has been successful, it comes with a heavy price. She misses her husband, she’s bone tired, and she is so lonely she talks to her plow horse and vegetables.
She gets occasional company from down-on-their-luck cowboys hoping to get a meal from her before they go on their way. The latest one is Jess Flint, whose hungry eyes bring out the wariness in Ellen. When Jess asks Ellen for one night’s rest in her barn, she reluctantly agrees, knowing she can protect herself with her husband’s shotgun.
Jess ends up sticking around when Ellen accidentally breaks her leg the next day. Because her farm is very isolated, he sets her leg himself, using his long neglected skills as an army surgeon during the Civil War. He is helpful and thoughtful in other ways – milking the cow, gathering the eggs from the chickens, making their meals, relieving her burdens for a while. They talk, they enjoy each other’s company, and their mutual attraction grows. But Jess didn’t come to Ellen’s farm by accident. He contrived to be there to search for something. Others want the same object as Jess, and they are riding furiously toward the farm to get it.
Ellen is an admirable frontier woman of grit and determination. She has to keep the farm going for the simplest of reasons: survival. She still thinks Dan will return. Her remark to Jess is poignant when she says, “I don’t know how to stop waiting for him [Dan].” Her feelings for Jess alarm her, but her strong sense of right and wrong won’t let her break her marriage vows.
While Jess is handsome, strong, and decent, his past makes him even more interesting, especially what happened to him during the Civil War and his unusual, to say the least, occupation after he abandoned medicine. He grows more appealing by his show of concern and kindness toward Ellen, and the heartfelt love he feels for her finally wins me over.
Author Banning really did a lovely job of showing two people falling in love, avoiding the dreaded and facile one-blink-and-they’re-both-in-lust-let’s-jump-to-the-sex-scenes romance. The vivid depiction of frontier life in all its harsh, yet rugged beauty seemed effortless. She doesn’t shirk from showing the backbreaking grind of farm work, yet manages to convey the simple pleasure derived from the mere taste of a ripe orange. The action portions of the story are satisfying, evoking fond memories from me of old Gunsmoke episodes.
However, I couldn’t overlook a few plot holes that really stuck out like sore thumbs. Although Ellen doesn’t know where her husband Dan went after he left her, she never bothered to ask anyone to help her find him, not even her friend, the town sheriff, who might have had the connections to make inquiries. And, when she finds herself in some sticky situations with men who are hiding from the law, this normally smart woman’s actions are fairly dense. In addition, while Jess’s love for Ellen was certainly romantic, it also appears that he shows absolutely no compunction about pressuring a married woman to disregard her marriage vows for him. Jess also makes a very risky, and unnecessary, move that places Ellen alone and in grave danger. Neither of these actions scream “hero” to me.
Banning’s smooth and very readable prose made Loner’s Lady an enjoyable, fast read. However, it wasn’t quite fast enough for me to miss its weaknesses.