Thursday, October 28, 2021

Ellen O'Connell - Without Words

Bounty hunter Bret Sterling kills Rufus Petty, thief and murderer, less than ten feet away from a frightened, half-starved woman. Rufus should have surrendered. The woman should have kin to help her. But Rufus went down shooting, and the woman has no one. Bret figures by the time he finds a safe place to leave Hassie Petty, he'll earn the five hundred dollar reward several times over.
Hassie doesn't mourn Rufus, but the loss of the ten dollars he promised her for supplies is a different matter. The bounty hunter gives her nothing, takes everything, ties the body on one horse and orders her on another. Afraid if she defies him, he'll tie her down tighter than Rufus, Hassie mounts up and follows the icy-eyed killer.
Mismatched in every way, the sterling man and petty woman travel the West together, hunting thieves, deserters, and murderers. Wary traveling companions, friends and partners, lovers, Bret and Hassie must decide what they want, what they need, and the price they're willing to pay for love.

Comment: It was finally possible to read this book, the last one by the author I had in the pile. I might look for more by her in the future, though.

In this book we meet bounty hunter Bret Sterling as he catches up with another fugitive. Things don't go too well and he kills the man to defend himself. This means he can recover his reward but he feels he is now in charge of the man's stepmother Hassie, a much younger widow of the fugitive's father. To make things worse, she seems to be mute and Bret feels guilt so he decides to take her with him until some solution is found. They get along well enough until a job arises for her but pure chance reveals a trick to deceive Hassie and once more, Bret takes her with him. As their journey continues and the bounty hunting continues until Bret reaches his family home, the two get close. Will they want to never see each other again once Bret gets home to stop being a bounty hunter at last?

This book was published in 2014 but it feels like it could have been written in the 90s in terms of style, if one has read more western romances. The characters are complex but not complicated, they reveal themselves through their actions and little things as opposed to grand gestures or unbelievable steps. I think what I liked best was how simple both protagonists were and how simple they wanted their lives to be as well.

The plot isn't much more elaborate from what the blurb suggests. Basically, we can summarize this book as a romance on the road, so to speak, for the majority of the evolution between the protagonists happens while they are traveling and we learn of their feelings in small things such as a look, a thought, a kind gesture, an innocent action, a helpful hand and so on. We learn that as they spend time together, they recognize in one another the kind of person they want to be with and who makes their hearts sing.

Of course things aren't simple for Bret has family who won't welcome Hassie that easily and he also has expectations to meet, responsibilities to take care of. Having read plenty of romances already, I knew things would obviously end up well for them but it's always interesting to see how authors decided to move things along or how they create the scenes for what is necessary to happen to finally come to be and although how Bret's family acts isn't anything new, it still allowed for some drama and emotions to rise.

The romance was sweet and slow burning. I felt the protagonists had time to get to know one another and really fall in love. Hassie has endured a lot in her life but she still smiles and finds pleasure in simple things like dancing and listening to the birds. For her, this journey with Bret is like an adventure where she can be free and do fun and new things, and even dealing with the bandits they are capturing provides her with new experiences. The fact he takes care of her and defends her when strangers are mean makes her appreciate and, eventually, fall in love with Bret.

For hi, things are a little more complicated for he has a goal, he has family and obligations but deep down he is a good man and when he accepts he loves Hassie, he never vacillates in assuming it and telling others he wants to be with her. His dealings with family and the expectations regarding his work and his position in the family are the main reasons for conflicts as the story goes on to its end, but he cherishes and defends Hassie through it all, and I thought the relationship evolved at a believable pace.

There is some big drama in the end and some readers have said it seems things were a bit too silly, easily avoidable... I agree, there were some scenes I think were unnecessary, and see to contradict the evolution we saw happening throughout the novel but thankfully, things were solved pretty quickly and the main characters were able to learn from those experiences to reach their HEA.

All things considered, this was a good story, enjoyable and I liked reading it, only stopping when I had to. For those who like old fashioned novels that one can imagine would age well, this seems to be  a good example.
Grade: 8/10

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