Molly O'Keefe was self-publishing a historical western I twirled around in a circle flapping my arms the whole time. I love O'Keefe's writing and I love historical westerns more than the air I breathe. And now she's written a western. Seduced is a novella that clocks in around 150 pages, but heck - I'll take what I can get.
Melody Hurst was a Southern belle before the Civil War. That is to say she was expected to look pretty, flirt outrageously, and ultimately run a household with the slaves doing most of the pesky work. But the war has changed all that. The slaves left, and things fell to her and her sister Annie to keep things going. The war over, their parents dead, along with Melody's intended husband, what is a girl to do? Well, marry. I mean, what other options are there? So she marries Jimmy, a boy she knew before the war and now changed by it. Needless to say, it's not sunshine and roses. Jimmy is now hauling them out west looking for a man who done him wrong in Andersonville. Well he's found the guy, and after shooting him, leaving him for dead, he heads to the nearest town on another mission leaving Melody and Annie to clean up the mess.
Cole Baywood is a bounty hunter who just so happens to be tracking Jimmy. He's actually looking for his brother (guess who that is?), who has been leaving letters in various towns looking for family members left adrift by the war. He learns that Jimmy is picking up these letters and wonders why. Then he finally finds his brother's cabin, only to discover no Jimmy, plus two women in residence. Where is his brother?
I know, this doesn't sound at all like a conventional romance. Presumably Cole is the hero, Melody the heroine - and they are. But Melody is already married, so how does that work? Well needless to say O'Keefe makes it work while piling on a lot of believable angst for our characters to work through.
Melody was your classic pretty manipulator before the war. She decided one day that she wanted a certain boy and used all the tricks in the book to enrapture him. She's not terribly nice and isn't above using her feminine wiles to get what she wants. The war puts a more desperate spin on her tendencies. She's not above trying to bat her eyelashes (and more) at Cole when she feels the situation warrants it. She's a woman living in fear, living on the edge, and desperate for safety. She's not smart like her sister Annie. She cannot be expected to use her brains. No, she's going to use what God gave her and that's all the classic Southern belle tricks in the book.
Cole was also changed by the war. Bounty hunting has kept him moving and the pay is decent. But when he gets wind that he has family still alive, finding his brother is all that matters to him. He's also a little worried that an unsavory character like Jimmy is hovering around the edge. He takes one look at Melody and is gobsmacked. She reminds him of everything that was before the war. Pretty girls, good manners, small talk and flirting. Back when his life was a lot less dangerous and much simpler.
O'Keefe packs a lot of story in these 150 pages and for the most part I felt like the length was well suited. While there are outside factors, the vast majority of the conflict is internal. This story is just as much a romance as it is a story of people trying to move on after tragedy. And make no mistake - the war was a tragedy. Where I wish this story was longer was with the actual Cole/Melody romance. I think I needed more convincing, mostly to be sure that there were real feelings there and Melody wasn't just falling into old patterns. Although, to be honest, given the baggage these characters are lugging around, it's hard to say if a longer word count would have satisfied me.
Like contemporary romance, small towns tend to be very prevalent in historical western romances. And hey, I like those, but honestly my very favorite westerns are always the gritty, lawless ones. The stories where the heroines have their backs against a wall and are not only fighting for true love, but their very survival as well. O'Keefe writes wonderful contemporary stories, and Seduced nicely illustrates that she's capable of thinking outside that box.
Final Grade = B+