Sunday, July 13, 2008

West of Heaven by Victoria Bylin

Jayne Dawson is a widow with big problems. Her husband was found dead on a farm belonging to a grumpy man named Ethan Trent. When she went out for the funeral, a snowstorm began and she found a letter from her husband that, when she read it, completely shattered the ideas she had of him, along with what she thought she'd known about him. He wasn't a Federal Marshall, but a bandit who had killed a Marshall and stolen his badge. He'd lied to her because he'd fallen in love with her, and wanted to be a better man, all for her.

But his death puts her in dire straits. The town marshall, if he learns the truth, will consider her an accessory to her former husband's crimes, and believe she knew the truth of who and what he was. Her only chance is to take shelter with the man whose land her dead husband's body was found on, Ethan Trent, and hope that she can work for him, make some money, and disappear into another state where no one will come looking for her.

Ethan Trent is grumpy because he misses his wife and children, including two sons and a small daughter. He was away from the barn when it caught fire, and he blames himself for their deaths. The last thing he thinks he needs is a woman intruding into his house, bringing up memories of his dead wife, and worse yet, with a child on the way, bringing back memories of his children. He'd rather those memories stay dead and buried, but something about Jayne brings back the softer memories, too, and he finds himself attracted to her, something which makes him grumpiest of all.

But as the weeks and then the months pass by, Ethan finds himself enjoying Jayne's presence, especially her ability to cook, and how she cleans his house and forces him to shape up from his surly, grumpy, unkempt former self. He finds himself having fallen in love with her, and definitely wanting her. Jayne also finds herself falling for Ethan, a decent man dealt several hard knocks in life, and who blames himself for the death of his family. But even as she is falling in love with him, she doesn't want a relationship with him.

Then a man from her former husband's past shows up and forces her to pretend to be Ethan's wife, because he told the man that the Widow was dead. But will her husband's former outlaw partner believe Ethan's stories, and will he believe that the two of them are truly married? More to the point, will Ethan and Jayne ever find true happiness, and can she ever come out of the shadows and become Ethan's wife openly, without fear and without shame? And can Ethan forgive himself for not being there for his wife and children, and accept the chance to find love again.

This is a solid romance novel. The characters are not particularly special, nor is their story, but it's an engaging read that you will find hard to put down while you are reading it. Tension, both romantic and otherwise, abounds, and the ending is heartwarming. You will find yourself caring for Ethan and Jayne, but not excessively.

A good book for an engaging read. A nice bit of brain candy. Nothing more.

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