The Horse Soldier
I loved the central conflict in this book: the hero and heroine, who once loved each other deeply, have now come to hate each other just as deeply, and not because of any big misunderstandings. She was a Southern Belle and he was a Union spy. The met, fell in love, and got married in a secret ceremony seven years ago. But he had in fact lied to her about his origins, and she did in fact betray him when she learned the truth. It’s how they come to understand why the other did what they did and learn to accept it and love again that makes this book so special. If it hadn’t been for an over-abundance of climaxes at the end, this would have been a Desert Isle Keeper.
When Julia Robichaud found out Andrew Garrett’s true identity two weeks after their wedding, she was hurt and betrayed and divulged his whereabouts to her uncle who took vengeance. Andrew was ambushed and shot, and Julia thought him dead. She later married again, this time a slick riverboat gambler named Philip Bonneaux. But of course Andrew Garrett had not died, but lived to continue fighting for the Union side and survive torture at a Confederate prison camp. Seven years later, he is second in command at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and has had ample reason to hate Julia for her betrayal. As it happens, Julia and her daughter Suzanne are abandoned at Fort Laramie on the way West to find her wayward second husband. Julia is near starvation, and upon meeting her supposedly dead first husband again, faints dead away at his feet. Though he no longer has tender feelings for her, he still believes them to be married and so does what he can to help her and her daughter who are impoverished by the war and Philip’s gambling.
Julia and Andrew’s conflicting feelings and loyalties are beautifully portrayed as they slowly come to understand each other and love again. Yet these developing feelings are tempered by the knowledge that Julia is married to someone else. Just who is her real husband? Once news of Philip’s death reaches them and they are free to love each other, they slowly inch towards reconciliation. Although passion inevitably comes before love, the love scenes, as well as being erotic and sexy, are all deeply emotional and serve to illustrate the growing trust between the two.
Details of day-to-day living are depicted in such a way that Fort Laramie comes alive in the pages of the book, without ever feeling dry or overdone. What helps make the setting so vibrant are the many secondary characters we meet who all have distinct personalities and feel absolutely real. It is obvious that the author has done her homework and knows how to involve the reader in the history of the US military and it’s often duplicitous dealing with the Indians while never letting it take over from the central love story itself. But being true to history means that people die in this book – a lot of them – and many of them are those we’ve come to care about. Some of these deaths are from disease and others due to battle or betrayal, but all of them hit home and make this book a very bittersweet read.
Unfortunately, this otherwise wonderful book goes a bit overboard at the end. Not only do people die, but some people get to die twice: Andrew is not the only one who is thought to be dead only to come back to life at a later date. In addition, the terrific internal struggles between the characters which up to that point had been the central conflict of the book, give way at the end to a series of external crises which in my opinion were unnecessary overkill. Is it really necessary to pile on the life-threatening climaxes and threats of separation at the end before we can finally arrive at the HEA? Perhaps there is room for one or two, but after that it just gets exhausting. I liked these characters so much I would have been satisfied just to see them work through their conflicts without all the extra baggage. Although my overall enjoyment was somewhat lessened by the never-ending nature of the ending, nevertheless the book as a whole is excellent, and I heartily recommend it.