The Outlaw's Heart
In Amy Sandas’ The Outlaw’s Heart, Evelyn Perkins has made a desperate attempt to escape an abusive marriage by sneaking away and catching a train to the western states. In Wyoming, her train is boarded by outlaws. Evelyn assumes they are coming for her and gives a false name, the name of the seatmate that disembarked earlier. Wrong move – the outlaws were looking for the seatmate.
The Outlaw’s Heart starts off quickly. In the prologue, we see the physical abuse Evelyn has suffered at the hands of her husband, and that she knows that if she doesn’t escape soon, she will be killed. She gathers her courage and some of her husband’s money and makes her escape, only to be taken from the train a few days later by bandits. At first, Evelyn is convinced that the outlaws were sent by her husband to find and return her, but it soon becomes obvious to them – and Evelyn – that they have the wrong woman.
Gabriel Sloan is Native American but was taken from his tribe as a child and raised by missionaries. When he tried to return to his home, he realized he was too different to remain with them, so he is a man without a family – until he is befriended by Luke, the leader of the group of outlaws. Gabriel volunteers to take Eve to Luke to see what should be done about her, assuring her she will not be harmed, and Eve, who has seen evil up close, she senses that the outlaws are being honest with her. She is still afraid they may ransom her to her husband, but she feels her best chance is to go along to meet this Luke and ask for her freedom and help finding her way further west.
Gabriel and Eve begin a long, hard, cold journey to the outlaw’s base camp. Eve goes along without fighting – she feels like she can trust Gabriel with her safety – at least until they reach Luke. Her choices are limited at this point – her money is gone, she has no idea where she is, and she fears her husband may learn about a fair-haired young woman taken from the train and realize it was her. On their long journey, Gabriel is overwhelmed by anger when he inadvertently sees the scars Eve’s husband has made, but is also filled with admiration at her undaunting courage. When they reach the base, Eve’s worries are put to rest when Gabriel speaks with Luke. He understands her situation and will let her stay with them until it makes sense for her to move on. It turns out they are a bit like Robin Hood’s gang.
Gabriel and Eve fall in love along their journey but keep these feelings to themselves. Eve is recovering from her traumatic marriage and there are demons in Gabriel’s life as well. But they are drawn to each other and the attraction continues to grow and bloom once they arrive at the camp. Can they break through each other’s shells – and can they evade Eve’s husband forever?
Eve is full of a courage she did not know she possessed and I liked her determination to survive. She never panics, she just puts her head down and moves forward. Gabriel is a man of few words but deep feelings and great compassion. He is continually facing prejudice and the crushing feeling of displacement, but he, too, is determined to make the most of his situation. They are both quiet people and their actions are their dialogue; they learn to read each other’s moods and movements long before they start having more serious discussions. Early on, I was concerned that Eve’s feelings for Gabriel were in the vicinity of Stockholm Syndrome but that thought dissipated quickly. The botched kidnapping quickly turns to assistance and Eve never feels threatened by Gabriel or the gang. Although it wasn’t her first choice, she makes the choice to stay with Gabriel and take her chances with the gang.
The Outlaw’s Heart has some very slow-moving parts interspersed with fast action scenes, and there is more introspection than dialogue between Eve and Gabriel, which will definitely turn some readers off. I was fine with it because Ms. Sandas does a lovely job giving us deep insight into each characters’ thoughts. Also, it is very much in character for both of them to keep their thoughts and emotions private, so it worked for me. There is also not much physical action until the last quarter of the book – again fine with me because it suited the situation perfectly. Eve had to come to realize that she was not truly married as her husband had violated all the laws of matrimony, and Gabriel gave her the space and time she needed to decide what she wanted.
I had a few issues with the storyline. I wanted to know more about why the gang had planned to kidnap a woman in the first place. We are given a short explanation but there is clearly more to the story – which makes me wonder if Ms. Sandas is planning to make Luke the hero of a future novel (good plan!). I also had a hard time buying the location of Eve’s brother and then her friends. The West is a big place, with – at that time – few communication options. I had to allow Ms. Sandas a little creative license here.
All in all, The Outlaw’s Heart was a good read. I enjoyed the quiet pace and the beautiful descriptive writing detailing Eve and Gabriel’s travels, and I enjoyed being a voyeur to their budding romance. This is the third and final book in the Runaway Brides series but it can definitely be read as a stand-alone. Readers of the series, fans of Ms. Sandas and of slow-burn, cowboy romance will enjoy The Outlaw’s Heart.
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