Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29811-2
Historical Romance, 2014
The woman known as Hattie Travers has a sad story to tell. A few years, she decided to run away with Ram Travers, believing that she was in love with him. She changed her mind halfway, only to learn that there was no going back. The Travers were a bunch of outlaws with a custom of abducting their brides, and Ram had chosen Hattie to be his wife. Whether the women were willing or not, the Travers men didn’t care. When the story opens, Hattie is finally free. The hero from the previous related story Rebel Outlaw has put a stop to the Travers gang and Ram seems to be dead. Finally, Hattie can go back to her parents. She brings along with her a bunch of kids (hers as well as those now left with nowhere to go after the disbandment of the Travers gang) – with another one on the way – and hopes that her parents would forgive her and take her – and the whole gang – back in.
Accompanying Hattie and the kids is US Marshal Reeve Prentis. He is the usual forbidding-looking lawman with some dark angst, but he’s a pretty sweet and nice guy here. He wants to see Hattie back to the safety of her family, and then he’d move on stoically to the next brooding station that awaits men like him. However, things never go as planned in stories like this one. After all, how else would they fall in love?
I don’t know why Outlaw Hunter has a cover in which the hero is aiming his gun at me, as this is hardly a story soaked in violence. For a long time, this is a romance-centric apple pie-and-sunshine Western romance with a touch of angst. It is easy to compare this story to something Pamela Morsi would write back in those days, or maybe something by Jodi Thomas. There is a sweet air of innocent simplicity in this story that is charming: the good guys here are down to earth types that are likable.
Hattie has her share of issues, but now that she is free from her husband and his dreadful family, she is determined to start anew and do her best to conquer her fears, for her own sake as well as for those kids’. I like that she recognizes that while a man’s touch understandably terrifies her now after what she’s gone through with Ram, she knows that one day, she may meet a man who would help her overcome this. She’s not someone who is content to wallow in self pity, and I like that. It’s the same with Reeve. He has issues and he believes that he has to atone for a sin he has committed in his past, but he never uses this as an excuse to play overlong silly games or be cruel. He’s protective and tender underneath that somewhat gruff and unpolished exterior, which makes him an adorable kind of hero.
Oh, and the kids are not annoying at all – most of the time, they behave like their age would suggest.
The romance is also on the whole sweet. Okay, sweet is such a trite word, but that’s what this romance is. There is an “Awww, so adorable!” vibe to everything. The amount of tenderness is just right – pages 125 to 126 really warm my heart – and the heartbreaking moments actually make me choke up a little inside. This is the kind of story that has me hearing those sweet violin-drenched theme songs from Kevin Sullivan’s TV shows in my head because the whole thing is just so irresistibly appealing in a simple yet wholesome way.
The thing that prevents me from giving Outlaw Hunter my full two thumbs up is the story eventually bringing in two comically evil one-dimensional characters. They stand out like sore thumbs as lazily-written plot devices in a story that is, up to that point, pretty good in serving up realistic emotions and likable characters. These characters plunge the story into a “We’re so evil, mua-ha-ha!” type of melodrama that I can’t take seriously at all. If there is a way to erase these two characters and their associated baggage out of this story, Outlaw Hunter would have been just fine.
Still, Outlaw Hunter has given me plenty of reasons to cheer it on, so everything is still pretty good over here.