I’ve enjoyed other books by Linda Devlin, who usually writes as Linda Winstead Jones. Something about the way she writes appeals to me, even when, as in Sullivan, the story she’s telling isn’t actually all that good.
Eden Rourke is an ever-so-nice young lady from Back East who has come to Texas to find her brother, Jed, because she worries about him. She made this trip by herself, with two small adopted children. In a small frontier town, Eden sees six men beating one. Because this is unfair, she marches into the melee and orders the six to stop. They do. Then, because she can’t just leave the poor man there in the street, she orders them to put his unconscious body in her wagon. They obey. That’s the incredibly unlikely beginning to the romance of Eden and Sinclair Sullivan.
Sullivan is the half-Commanche child of rape, and his is a world of violence. He and Jed are part of a group of six hard men who became friends in the Civil War (as the series is called The Rock Creek Six, we can assume that these tough guys will, one by one, fall in love and marry in the near future). Sullivan knows that he can’t just let Jed’s nice sister roam around by herself in Texas, so he escorts her to Rock Creek, masquerading as her husband. By the time they get there they’re more than two-thirds in love.
Everyone knows that Jed won’t like it, but true love will not be denied, and in Rock Creek Eden and Sullivan marry and spend a passionate night together. The next morning, Jed shows up and is horrified that his nice sister married a gun-toting half-breed like his friend Sullivan. He declares the marriage null and void and announces his intention to send Eden back home where she belongs, to marry a man just as nice as she is. To Eden’s horror, Sullivan agrees that he’s not good enough for Eden, and leaves her.
My problems with this book start with Eden. She’s just so nice, so sweet and brave, faithful, reverent, thrifty – it’s a wonder she’s not constantly surrounded by friendly bunnies and singing birds. I wouldn’t say that she’s too stupid to live, but she spends much of the book coming to conclusions without benefit of thought. First she rescues an unconscious man who was beaten silly, presumably for some reason. Next she drives off with him – and her two little children. And then, after he regains consciousness, she thinks: “Sullivan was a stranger still, and yet she knew without a doubt that she could trust him with her life. She looked into his eyes and felt nothing but goodness and warmth, and she always trusted her instincts.” I personally could not relate to that. She latches on to Sullivan before he even regains consciousness, and chalking it up to “instinct” didn’t make sense to me.
Then there’s Sullivan. He turns out to be a nice guy, and he’s as much in love with Eden as she is with him. But Sullivan is just not very memorable, especially compared with some other members of the Six (the devilish Daniel Cash is particularly intriguing). Eden wants to marry Sullivan; he agrees. Jed argues that Sullivan doesn’t deserve to be married to Eden; again, Sullivan agrees. Eden wants him back – well, you get the idea. The author is at pains to make me understand that Sullivan is tormented by his past, but for a war-hardened half-Commanche bastard, Sullivan was surprisingly meek and malleable.
Still, the second half of this book has some tenderly romantic moments that made me smile, in spite of myself. During that period, Sullivan can’t stay away from Eden, even though he knows he must, and that Jed will kill him if he doesn’t. So he and Eden launch an impromptu masquerade to fool Jed, quarreling in the daytime and meeting secretly at night. This leads to some funny moments, and the way Eden and Sullivan work through their differences is touching. As I’ve noticed in some of her other books, this author shines when it comes to portraying the growth of emotional intimacy between two people.
Sullivan is a book with its ups and downs, and I felt no emotional connection with either protagonist. But its humor, and the sweetness of the romance between the protagonists, may well recommend it to many. This series is written in turns by Devlin and by Lori Handeland; I might follow it, at least long enough to see what happens with Daniel Cash.