I’ve tried several previous Westerns by Jodi Thomas, but this was the first I truly enjoyed. While it isn’t perfect, it is a sweet and effective romance from start to finish.
Travis McMurray is a half-Irish, half-Apache Texas Ranger. His father was killed when he was very young, and his mother died soon after giving birth to his only sister. Afterwards, he and his two brothers protected the family ranch and helped raise their baby sister Sage.
Rainey Adams left behind a respectable but restricted life on the East Coast. An arranged marriage didn’t suit her, so she cut her hair and headed West, far from the clutches of her father.
The two first meet at a town dance where Rainey attempts to make off with a horse to get to her next destination, with Travis trying to prevent her from committing a crime. Rainey, being a thief with a conscience, saves Travis from being blamed for her own doings by kissing him – and then steals his horse. Both are affected by their encounter and, though Rainey escapes, Travis is determined to find her (and not just to get back his horse).
The author builds their romance slowly and carefully, and I appreciated the variety of ways used to develop their story. There are many sweet moments in which the two express still-developing feelings for each other, and I especially enjoyed a epistolary exchange. The sensuality may be subtle, but I found this romance had a welcome emotional weight to it.
The characters are not the most complicated in the world, but the author really manages to portray a sense of rightness when these two are together. It’s convincing rather than cheesy when Travis reflects on how Rainey seems so perfect for him.
The author also balances the romance perfectly with an interesting subplot for each character. Wounded in a fight, Travis is devastated because he must reconsider his career as a lawman. Meanwhile, Rainey wants to stop running, settle down, and become self-sufficient. The subplots in which Travis and Rainey try to determine their own individual futures are refreshing and compelling, and blend in perfectly with the romance, as they both continue to work but do not forget their brief encounters.
The only reason the book didn’t receive a higher grade is that the emotional conflict between the two tapers off in the weaker second half when the original conflict revolving around Rainey being a thief and Travis a lawman is replaced by insignificant hurdles to their relationship.
It’s a credit to the author’s writing ability that I still enjoyed the remainder of the book. I wanted to see these two end up together, even though there was little doubt that they would. In place of a relationship conflict, the author adds in a fairly standard western subplot involving stereotypical outlaws wanting revenge, which keeps things moving until the unfortunately abrupt ending.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a Western, and even longer since I’ve read a good one, but happily this was a genuinely pleasant read that made the time go by quickly.