Phoebe Conn’s Wild Desire is a readable western romance with some nice romantic moments and a lovely heroine. However, several of the other characters – including, unfortunately, the hero – are apparently inhabitants of some alternate dimension. In this dimension, the laws of logic are mystifyingly different, and people do things for reasons that don’t make any sense to those of us who live in the real world.
Jonathan Blair is a tough man of Cherokee ancestry who fought in the Civil War alongside two brothers, Lawrence and Lamar Bendalin. Now, several years after the war’s end, he is convinced that his friend Lawrence may be in trouble. (We never learn why he thinks so, and he never actually does anything to protect Lawrence; this is an early warning that Jonathan lives in an alternate dimension.) He travels to the Bendalin ranch in Texas to see Lawrence. There he encounters an attractive young woman, Eliza Kate, who is Lamar’s daughter (and Lawrence’s niece).
Jonathan stays at the ranch much longer than he intended, allegedly because of a horse race but in reality because he wants to be near Eliza Kate. At the same time, he makes it clear to everyone that he still mourns his dead wife and has no intention of marrying again. Eliza Kate, for her part, falls passionately in love with Jonathan. She expresses her love for him in every way a woman can, without actually telling him – after all, she has her pride. But she can’t help but hope that he’ll fall in love with her and marry her someday, even though he said that he won’t.
There are a variety of subplots. I’ve already mentioned the horse race. Eliza Kate’s mother’s illness is another. Uncle Lawrence gets a secondary romance. Eliza Kate’s evil father and his evil machinations also take up space. With all of this going on alongside the romance, the plot moves rather slowly.
The proliferation of subplots is perhaps not such a bad thing, though, since the romance between Jonathan and Eliza Kate could hardly stand to be the sole focus of the book. There’s no conflict between them that makes any sense at all. They are in love, and they long to be together forever – but he refuses to marry her. Why? Well, you see, Jonathan has experienced a lot of tragedy in his life. And it’s all his fault. He is “death’s lightning rod.” The fever that killed his wife and child? The Civil War that killed his friends? The governmental policies that forced his Indian family off their lands and into poverty? Yes, he is to blame for those things. He loves Eliza Kate too much to marry her, because if he does she might die. Does that make any kind of sense? This goes on for the entire length of the book; even on page 340, only 18 pages from the end, Jonathan is blaming himself for bad things that happen to Eliza Kate’s family. It’s idiotic – either that or, as I surmise, it actually makes perfect sense in some alternate dimension.
Other characters in the book don’t bear close scrutiny, either. Eliza Kate’s evil father Lamar hatches an evil plot to break his brother Lawrence’s heart. It works like a charm, only…why did he do it? I have no idea.
Eliza Kate exhibits much grace and courage in dealing with the inhabitants of the alternate dimension found in Wild Desire. I found her love for the impossible Jonathan to be quite touching, in spite of it all. But as much as I enjoyed her, she can’t compensate for what doesn’t work in the book, namely, most everything else.