Patricia McLinn’s Widow Woman just missed being a keeper. The elements are there, but it was, ironically, the author’s excellent depiction of the hero which ended up detracting from what otherwise is a first-rate read. This is author McLinn’s first full-length historical, and I’ll be at the front of the line for her next.
Well, Mae West put it best when she quipped: A hard man is good to find. Our hero is Nick Dusaq, and he sure is hard – a little too hard, and that was the problem for me.
Young and pretty, widow Rachel Terhune, and her Circle T ranch, sit right in the middle between two powerful and opposing ranches. Each neighbor wants to marry Rachel, and take the ranch as her bride-price. Her dead husband was a mean-hearted boor, and Rachel wants nothing more of marriage. The Circle T had been her beloved father’s legacy to her, and Rachel intends to hold it, by herself.
Nick and Rachel meet one day as she’s riding through the Circle T looking for rustlers, when she spots Nick bathing in a pond. He spots her, too, and without a word spoken between them, their eyes lock, tension sizzles, and Nick, who pins Rachel with his dark-eyed stare, exits the water, fully naked, fully aroused. Rachel turns her horse on a dime, and heads for the hills. She’s dismayed and embarrassed when the same handsome cowboy rides into the Circle T looking for work. It is that initial encounter that colors their every interaction for the rest of the book. He had wanted her; she had wanted him back, and she has no idea how to cope with this intense attraction between them.
Against her efforts to change his mind, Rachel’s foreman hires Nick, who is a top hand and can do much to keep the flailing operation from going under. But the sexual tension between Nick and Rachel is strung tightly as a bow, and she wishes she’d never laid eyes on him, so to speak.
Nick is prideful, and a man of few words. Very few. If he spoke a total of 500 words in the whole book, I’d be surprised. Rachel is a feisty heroine, but not a dumb one. Her moves are calculated, and are in keeping with her character. I liked that. Nick, too, stays within character, but he has an irritating tendency to turn on his heel and leave, just when he should be pulling Rachel into his arms and comforting her. I didn’t like that, and it hurt me to see him push her away. These characters were so well-developed, it was almost like I was the one having a relationship with a difficult man. Nick is the strong, silent type, and it’s just something Rachel, and I, had to come to terms with.
I liked all the characters in this book, especially in the depiction of a very tender, secondary love story that begins a little later in the story. You can sort of see it coming, and are glad when it finally arrives. As historicals go, author McLinn sure has done her homework. Ranch life, cattle, horses, and round-ups, are very well constructed and the flavor of 1882 Wyoming really comes through.
I was genuinely sorry when this book ended; I wanted a little more of it, even though I thought Rachel and Nick were parted too often, and that Nick was a little too reticent and hard-edged most of the time. The love scenes are good ones, as the sexual tension that permeates every page culminates in a couple of very nice encounters (thank heavens for line shacks – what ever would a cowgirl do without them?).
Also, this was a very serious book – there is no humor in it at all. In fact, Nick cracks a smile only twice that I can recall (I warned you he was hard, didn’t I?). And, there is a little complication that arrives near the end, and nobody seems capable of putting two-and-two together to deduce that a tiny, black-haired, black-eyed complication looks just like the black-haired, black-eyed cowboy who’d been hanging around about nine months ago. There is one individual who should have asked Rachel about it directly, but oddly, never does, and never figures it out. It’s just kind of a loose-end that bothered me.
While Nick is not a particularly appealing hero in some ways (he is so full of pain and pride), he is a compelling one. Its very few problems aside, I can certainly recommend Widow Woman.