I've actually seen/heard some comments about Elizabeth Lane's lastest Harlequin Historical, The Stranger, most of them ranging from very mixed to less than positive. I picked this one up at the RWA Literacy Signing and looking for a shorter, fast read, started it right away. Have to say, I liked this one quite a bit.
Laura Shafton is a young bride when her life is shattered. Riding up to her New Mexico ranch are three disreputable looking men. She wants them gone, but her husband is more trusting (read: stupid) and invites them to stay for a meal. As one can imagine, it goes downhill quickly with Laura begging for the life of her unborn child, almost being raped and her husband dying from a gunshot wound.
Fast forward five years and Caleb McCurdy is riding up to Laura's ranch once again. He managed to save her when his half-brother tried to rape her, but he could do nothing for her husband. He convinced his older half-brother to let her live, and having spent the last five years rotting in prison after his brothers hung him out to dry, he's making his way back to her ranch to find out whatever happened to her. Caleb was young and foolish, failing to see the kind of men his brothers were until it was too late. He's older and wiser now, and has a debt to pay.
He's greeted at the door by Laura holding a loaded shotgun. The altercation with his brothers has left her physically scarred and an emotional mess. She also fails to recognize Caleb, who has grown from scrawny teen to rugged, world-weary man. He convinces her to let him do some repairs around her ranch in exchange for food and a place to sleep. She reluctantly agrees, thanks in part to some trouble her young son, Robbie, lands himself in.
This story is my kind of western - gritty, dark and not always easy to read. Lane pulls no punches, and what Laura survives is beyond traumatic. The fact that she does survive it makes the reader admire her beyond measure. I also enjoyed how Caleb's teenage puppy love grows into respect for a woman who has fought to hang on to the ranch so her son will have an inheritance.
Most of the negative comments I have heard about The Stranger center around the convenience in which one of the plot points gets wrapped up - a neighboring widower who wants to marry Laura. Since Laura has no desire to marry him, and never encourages him, the convenience in which Lane ends this aspect of the story didn't bother me. It's either going to work for readers, or not - and it worked well enough for me.
At a recent used bookstore going-out-of-business sale, I picked up several of Lane's older and out of print HH titles. Now I'm glad I did. I'll definitely be reading more. Final Grade = B