I don't read many westerns. I've read only a handful since I started reading Romance because I can't help but think of the decidedly unromantic stories lurking right outside the frame of most historical western romances, particularly what happened to Native American tribes as white settlers moved West. I am very thankful that Molly O'Keefe doesn't ignore the ugly historical realities. The ugliness of slavery, the horrors of the Civil War and the brutality of the West Expansion is not sugar-coated or excused; it isn't hidden or forgotten.
In Seduced, Melody has been dragged from her ruined home in Georgia to the Colorado Frontier by her abusive husband. Jimmy has been hunting Steve Baywood, the Union solider he helped escape from Andersonville, and who then left him behind to be captured and branded by the Confederate Home Guard. Bent on revenge, he has tracked Baywood to his Colorado homestead. Melody and her sister Annie are caught in the middle, fearful for their lives but unwilling to let Baywood die. Only the unexpected arrival of Steve's brother saves them all from certain death. Gratitude, guilt and desperation affect them all as they struggle to figure out how to live again.
Melody is striking. A selfish, petty and frivolous southern bell reduced to desperation. She is aware every moment of the precariousness of her life and will do anything to secure safety and security for herself and her sister. She is deeply aware of her flaws. She has no true vanity left, so deeply ashamed of the way she used to live but she is desperate so she will use all of charms to seduce and manipulate.
Cole, like everyone else in the book, has been deeply changed by the war. Cole was once sure that he would never be able to have proper feelings or be anything but ruined. Through his admiration of Melody, rediscovers that he has hopes and dreams. He starts remembering that he is more than a killer.
I was completely caught up in this story. I loved the push-pull between Melody and Cole, her fear, his hope. I loved seeing him hold out for more from her, not being willing to settle for her body and her desperation. I loved how incandescently angry Melody is in her declaration scene. That scene was flawless, I believed every single line in it.
Seduced was a potent moving romance. O'Keefe convincingly brings together two painfully damaged people who need each other much more than they could have ever imagined.
Tempted is the sequel to Seduced and it follows Melody and Cole's siblings, Annie and Steven. Annie is forging a new life for herself in Denver. She owns a boarding house and works as Doctor's assistant. Steven checks in on her whenever he is in town for business. They have built a solid friendship, while each ignores the fact that they feel much more for each other than simple friendship. When Annie receives an unexpected proposal from a third-party, that tempts a curious Annie, they can no longer ignore their feelings.
Tempted was a very different kind of romance than Seduced. Annie has never had any seductive charms. She has always been the industrious "unnatural" daughter, determined, blunt and ambitious. She is far from desperate, happy living an unconventional life. She has never wanted a man's protection or attention. But she is curious about sex, and increasingly aware of her attraction to Steven.
Steven was deeply traumatized by his time in the POW camp in ways he rather not speak about. He was content with an intimate friendship with Annie because it was safe. He is forced into finally addressing the issues that haunt him or face losing Annie to another man.
Tempted however doesn't become a book about sexual experimentation, instead it becomes a book about PTSD, addiction, suicide and grief. Annie rightly confronts Steve on his determination to heal himself before allowing Annie to love him. Their HEA is not easily won or sex-magicked away, they are instead facing incredibly hard things together.
I was fascinated by all the secondary characters in this book. I will happily read more about Stella and Delilah and the other sex workers at Delilah's Brothel. I want to know more about Elizabeth, the black miner's wife and new mother who is boarding at Annie's house and the vain, selfish and chloroform addicted doctor, whose proposal trigger the conflict in the novel.
Both Seduced and Tempted are well worth reading.
I received a review copy of Tempted from the author.