Desert Isle Keeper
The cover of Sunset Embrace (originally published in 1985) describes it as “a classic love story,” and really nothing describes it better. I adore this book for many reasons that I’ll get to later, but for now let me introduce the two main characters.
Lydia Langston is a young woman on the run from the abusive step brother who impregnated her. Utterly depressed, she keeps running, all the while wishing herself and the unfortunate result of one night’s rape dead. Lydia drops with exhaustion, and gives birth where she falls. The baby does not survive, and Lydia is found by two boys whose mother and father rescue her and allow her to join them on a wagon train heading to Texas. For a while she remains a mystery on the train, until fate brings her into the life of Ross Coleman.
I loved Ross Coleman, despite his faults, because he came across as a deep down honorable man trying to escape a murky past. Having left his troubled youth behind, he married his boss’ daughter (while daddy was away) and she convinced him to leave for Texas, since she was desperate to get out from under daddy’s thumb. Ross idolizes his wife and puts her on a pedestal – she represents everything he thinks he wants. She is prim, genteel, and “pure,” a symbol of the new respectable life he wants to carve out for himself. They are en route on the wagon train, Ross’s wife is pregnant, and she dies in childbirth leaving a screaming baby needing a nurse.
In comes Lydia, who refuses to tell her past to anyone on the train so naturally, they wonder – is she a prostitute, a loose woman? Having been so sick, Lydia looks a sight, with tangled hair and an ill-fitting dress, which only cements her in Ross’s mind as tainted. Of course she is the only one who can care for the baby so the people who rescued her send her off to live in Ross’s wagon while he sleeps underneath. She falls in love with the baby, but can’t understand why Ross seems to hate her. He is very confused since he thought he worshipped his wife and can’t stand the feelings Lydia arouses in him. Their physical attraction throws sparks from almost the first minute they lay eyes on each other, and Ross puts it down to not having had a woman in a while, his wife having begged off “duties” as soon as she found out she was pregnant. Of course, he blames Lydia for the attraction, unaware of the tragic nature of her past.
I adore strong male heroes, and Ross is certainly one of them. He is by no means perfect, and certainly no new-age man, but I kind of like that. Ross and Lydia are very quickly forced to get married under the watchful eye of the wagon train’s morals police. Ross is conned into it because he needs a wet-nurse for the babe, and Lydia can’t really stay with him as a single woman, because that wouldn’t be respectable. Every time she innocently makes an effort to bridge the tension between them, he rejects her, torn by his perception of her as a slut, and yet drawn to her by his passion for her. Ross and Lydia are on a similar emotional journey that takes them to a climactic finish which proves that you can’t hide from your past.
I believe it’s the chemistry between the two characters that makes Sunset Embrace a keeper – I cared so much for each of them that I just didn’t want the book to end. I’ve read it a number of times since and it has never diminished in entertainment value. Despite holes in the plot, and how dramatically each of their personalities is heightened, the plot remains credible and I never found it hard to suspend disbelief. Though originally published nearly 20 years ago, that the book remains in print today is a testament to its power.