It was once suggested to me that I don't give romance readers enough credit. That's true - I don't give the majority of romance readers enough credit. It's been my experience that many romance readers want the safe bet. The book that is going to give them exactly what they want, and not challenge any notions they might have of love, sex, marriage or basic human nature. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but own up to it. Sadly, very few actually do - which means the comments about A Reason To Believe by Maureen McKade should make for interesting reading. This is one flawed heroine. Deeply, deeply flawed. While there were aspects of this story that didn't entirely work for me, you have to admire the author for having the balls to write it.
Rye Forrester has a debt to pay. An Army deserter (with the brand on his back to prove it), he rides up to Dulcie McDaniel's dilapidated farm to atone for his part in her husband's death. But the words get stuck in his throat and instead he asks for a job. He'll fix up her home, property and bring in her crops in exchange for room and board. Dulcie is desperate beyond measure, and not taking a moment to look a gift horse in the mouth, accepts his offer.
Dulcie married the useless Jerry McDaniel to get the hell out of Locust, Texas. She gets out of Locust, but in exchange she gets a worthless husband who spends all of his time either in saloons, with whores or both. When Jerry dies, she is left with a young daughter to care for and no means of support. The only answer is to go back to Locust and the farm where her useless, lazy, drunken father still lives. They hitch a ride with a peddler who expects payment, and Dulcie only has one thing to offer (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). After they arrive, her father is accused of murdering the most popular man in town and is lynched. Dulcie knows damn well her father didn't murder anyone, but nobody believes her.
She doesn't trust Rye Forrester as far as she can throw him. Her experiences with men have taught her to be wary. But the more she gets to know him, the more she lets her guard down. What happens when she learns the truth about Rye? And what will he think when he discovers what kind of woman she really is?
Dulcie is a woman who has made disastrous choices, mostly brought on by youth and desperation. For a girl whose home life is terrible growing up, what options were there in the 19th century? Um, not a whole lot - so Dulcie uses the one thing she has (her body) to secure herself a means out of Dodge (marriage). Unfortunately, she picks the wrong guy. When the peddler threatens to leave them stranded in the middle of nowhere if she doesn't pay up, Dulcie does what she must to secure the safety of her young daughter. Yes, she uses her body and yes, she allows others to use it as well. But that's not what haunts her. It's the fact that her body "betrays her" and she enjoys sex that troubles her the most - and when Rye begins awakening her desire she hits the whiskey bottle to starve it off.
This is a heroine that won't work for a lot of readers, and I'll admit the whole "drinking in secret" thing is really hard to read about. But half the joy in this book is watching the characters owning up to their mistakes and trying to make amends. The scene where Dulcie learns the truth about Rye is particularly fantastic, and really brings both of their destructive tendencies to a head.
What doesn't work so well here is the conflict surrounding the lynch mob and Dulcie's Daddy. She swears he's innocent, nobody believes her. Frankly I felt this aspect of the story was unnecessary. There's oodles of internal conflict; this just mucks up the works and takes the focus off the internal struggles of our romantic couple. I guess it does give them something to do - but the main problem here is that the mystery is no brain-bender. Frankly the minute Rye starts snooping around I had the thing solved and after that it just got tiresome. It does succeed for helping the plot move along, and if you're the sort of reader who needs external conflict then it does serve it's purpose. Me? I just didn't see the point.
I didn't like this one nearly as much as A Reason To Live, but I still admire what McKade has done with this book. It's not easy to read and it features characters that aren't always easy to like. Both Rye and Dulcie have a lot to atone for, and to watch these two damaged people learn to truly love each other is a joy to read about. So McKade gets the gold star for not taking the easy way out, but Final Grade = B.