Beverly Jenkins for her heroines. She writes great heroines. Smart, self-reliant, with a touch of sass. Jenkins writes the sort of heroines who don't need a romance. If a romance never came along, they'd be just fine. No, they deserve a romance and as the reader you want to see them get their happy ending.
Work had Always And Forever on audio and despite my mental block of listening to romance, I thought I'd try it. I was mostly enjoying it until...well, until the sex ruined everything. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Warning, warning! Thar Be Spoilers Ahoy!
Grace Atwood has been left at the altar. Her mother died when she was young. Her banker father valued that his daughter had a brain in her head and raised her to be independent. In fact, after he passes, Grace has taken over running the bank. Finally, at 30, she thinks she's found The One. Only to have her groom throw her over at the altar when the wealthier woman he was pursuing agrees to marry him. Grace then has to face the guests, return the wedding gifts, and deal with the inevitable talk that follows - but she does so with her head held high. That said, when her cousin in Kansas asks her to coordinate finding some mail-order brides of good, quality backgrounds? Grace goes all in.
Grace has no trouble finding the brides and decides that they will travel by wagon. Jim Crow is now firmly entrenched and she can't risk the women traveling by train (where they would either have to travel in cattle cars, or be dumped out in the middle of nowhere by racist, unethical conductors). It will take longer, but a wagon train seems the wiser course of action. But she needs to hire a man to lead the wagon train and that's when she stumbles upon Jackson Blake, a Texan With a Past who is now living in a Chicago whorehouse.
This is all fairly straight forward. Headstrong heroine, Alpha hero, wagon train heading west. Sparks fly, banter exchanged, sexual tension you can see for miles. Interesting characters and amusing exchanges (Grace's great-aunts are fantastic, as is a scene when secondary character Loreli Winters dispatches some bandits). The plotting could have been tighter in some spots (Do I really care that Grace's ancestor was a pirate? No. No I do not.), but this was hovering somewhere around a B or B- for a good long while.
But then it happened. The sex scene.
There actually wasn't anything wrong with the sex. A little flowery, but again - I was listening to this on audio and I, admittedly, have a difficult time with someone reading me sex scenes. No, it was the aftermath that landed this firmly in my I Cannot Be Bothered To Continue pile.
Jackson is all like, sure Grace I'm all for us burning up the sheets - but you'll have to marry me if you get pregnant because ain't no way I'm letting a child of mine be born without my name. Of course they're getting all hot and heavy by this point and Grace is all like, "Whatever cowboy just do me already!!!!" and, you know, they do. Then Jackson is all like, "Well now you have to marry me because you're carrying my child."
That's right - they've literally just had sex. The one time. And Jackson, who obviously has delusions he's a Great Swami besides a cowboy, tells Grace she's now pregnant and that she will, in no uncertain terms, marry him. Grace is naturally a little peeved by his high-handedness never mind that THEY DON'T KNOW FOR SURE IF SHE'S PREGNANT!!!!
I'm not kidding. He pulls out and basically is all like, now we get married. Grace resists, he threatens to wire her great-aunts, she's all like, you're a jerkface, he wires her aunts, they show up and say, "Honey you should marry that man." Nevermind that NOBODY KNOWS IF GRACE IS EVEN PREGNANT!!!! She hasn't even had a late period yet. SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!?!??!
I just couldn't deal anymore. I think the objective was to show the reader that Jackson is a good, honorable man who wouldn't use the heroine for mere sexual gratification and then dispose of her cruelly. Never mind that he agreed to take on the wagon train because he has
plans to go back to Texas to avenge his father's murder. He's going to
railroad the heroine into marriage first THEN go off to Texas to
possibly get himself killed. His demanding marriage, him just immediately knowing she MUST be pregnant, all the while he has plans to leave the heroine behind while he's off to seek revenge - well, it annoyed me no end.
We Had Sex One Time Ergo Of Course You MUST Be Pregnant Because I Am Strong And Virile With The World's Most Amazing Super Sperm!!!!! Mwhahahahahaha!
And while I'm at it - the guy was living in a Chicago whorehouse. I know since the dawn of time birth control has largely been an issue women have dealt with (and Grace, while 30, is a virgin...) - but dude. He didn't pick up any pointers at all? Of course he's a man - he probably couldn't be bothered.
So yeah. I'm out. I don't know if Grace is really pregnant and I don't know if Jackson ends up going to Texas after all but....ugh. I'm done caring.
Final Grade = DNF