Texas Empires: Longhorn
The first two books in Evelyn Rogers’ Texas Empires triology followed the adventures of the Harden brothers as they made their way to Texas and glory. In Longhorn, Rogers introduces us to Maddie, the youngest of the Harden siblings and the last remaining family member in New Orleans. Maddie is waiting out the final days of the Civil War under the harsh rule of occupying Union forces. Once her fiance returns from the front, Maddie plans to join her successful brothers in Texas and start a new life and a ranching dynasty of her own. But things get complicated when Captain Daniel Kent enters the picture and begins to persistently court Maddie.
Before Maddie can leave for Texas, Rogers treats us to many pages of backstory, brutality, and even a bodice ripping. I don’t want to give anything away, but I should say that the hero isn’t responsible for (or even aware of) most of the nasty stuff. Consequently, he’s hurt and angry when, without explanation, Maddie flees New Orleans and their budding romance in the night. When we meet Maddie again, almost a year has passed. She is slowly beginning to build up her ranch when who should come riding up but Captain Dan Kent who has come to Texas to fight Indians for the US Government. It would all make for a happy reunion, except that when Maddie fled Louisiana, Dan decided she was a Confederate spy who had feigned affection for him to learn Union secrets. It’s a ludicrous assumption and not even Dan’s grief over a dead brother can justify it. In fact, this Big Misunderstanding undermines the entire first one hundred pages of the book.
Longhorn has an interesting beginning where we actually get to see the making of the history and hero and heroine will share. That they are on opposite sides of the war becomes unimportant in the face of their attraction and Maddie’s personal struggles. This is helped by the fact that the hero and heroine actually seem to be speaking to each other honestly. But, despite the time Rogers takes with this book, she still feels it’s necessary to throw in this nonsense about Maddie being a Confederate spy to create tension between her characters. These characters had enough to work through without this awkward plot twist.
The book suffers from other problems as well. Because it’s telegraphed from about a mile away, I don’t feel like I’m giving away too much by telling you that Maddie is raped by one of Kent’s men early in the book. It’s not surprising that rape is such a popular plot device as it is one of the most traumatic things a woman can endure and a fear we all have. But if an author uses rape to further a plot, she should at least give its repercussions due weight. Rogers tries to get around this by making Maddie unconscious for the assault. She is scared and feels soiled, and yet she remembers nothing and is enjoying Dan’s embraces only a few short weeks later. It’s as if Rogers can’t decide just how much the rape should mean and the fact that Maddie puts it behind her so quickly feels false.
Still, given all that she’s been through, it’s great to see Maddie take her destiny into her own hands. It was tough to believe that a woman would actually move to a dangerous part of Texas with no companions to start a business she knows nothing about, and that she would refuse to contact her brothers in the name of pride. But I love tough heroines, so I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of giving Maggie challenges to overcome. Unfortunately, despite all that happens in this story, Maddie actually does very little. She repeatedly relies upon the kindness of strangers or near-strangers with remarkable results. She hires almost everyone she meets and (lucky for her) they all happen to be honest and hard working. But she does little more than fret, almost gets herself raped a second time, and gets everyone in a snit by daring to wear trousers.
The book is well-paced and I liked the chemistry between the two lead characters. But neither Dan nor Maddie were enough to carry the story. We never really understand why Maddie chooses such a hard life for herself in Texas. She seems to be following in the footsteps of her brothers, but their relationship isn’t really developed until the end of the book. Also, there’s a development near the story’s close that I think is supposed to be a plot twist since the author is so vague about it up until the crucial moment. Instead of being surprised by this turn of events, I was just baffled as to why Rogers didn’t spare us the clumsy secrecy and come clean earlier. I might have understood Maddie better and enjoyed Longhorn more.
A reader with a yen for Western romance could do worse than read Longhorn, but she could also do better.