The pony express station they own in the wilds of the Nevada Territory means everything to Helena Gray. That's why she trudges up a lonely mountain to ask the town hermit to marry her. Carrigan, a surly loner who rarely comes down off his mountain is the last man around to be considered marriage material, but Helena needs his reputation to keep her station open after her father's brutal murder. While the merchants in town won't give her the time of day, Helena knows no one would dare cross Carrigan. No one knows what he'd do if they got him mad enough. Carrigan turns Helena down flat. He chooses to stay in the high mountains above town because he wants nothing to do with people. But Helena makes him an irresistible offer. If he'll live in her house, and use his reputation to rebuild her business, she'll deed over a tract of land way outside of town to him. Six months. Carrigan reckons he can stand civilization for six months in exchange for the kind of freedom he's always wanted. Once in town, Carrigan finds it hard to maintain his distance from Helena. He's been away from a woman for so many years, he's forgotten how soft, how utterly irresistible they could be. But he has to resist. He told himself years ago that he'd never get close to anyone, so he'd never have to go through that wrenching loss ever again. For her part, Helena's stunned to find herself wishing she were in a real marriage instead of this sham. Spending time around Carrigan makes her yearn to feel his embrace, his kisses. Even if he leaves in six months, she tells herself, it would be worth it to know what it would feel like to make love to him. She could at least pretend she had a real marriage, something she knows she'll never have in her life anyway.
Owning a Pony Express Station is the background upon which the story of Helena Gray and Jake Carrigan plays out. Helena and her younger sister (Emilie) own and run the local general store and Pony Express Station in Genoa, Nevada Territory. Their father, August Gray, was murdered five days before. Then Helena's vendors began withholding horse supplies, citing their fear that the girls couldn't repay the costs. Helena goes up the mountain to ask the meanest man in town to marry her. Her reasoning is that the suppliers wouldn't have the guts to turn down her husband.
For his part, Jake Carrigan is underwhelmed with the offer. He's satisfied with his life as the local surly hermit, needing no one. Jake tells her what she can do with her offer. Desperate, Helena offers to trade a tract of land the sisters own for 6 months of his time. All he has to do is live in her house and help her rebuild her business for 6 months and the land could be his. As Jake is squatting on land he does not own, he sees this as the answer to his worry about the future. Thus, he agrees.
Their nice, unemotional contract does not work in quite the way they planned. These are two damaged people who are haunted by their histories. As each continues to grieve about their pasts, they realize they want what they (think) they can't have -- a future with love.
I subtracted one point from the score because the author utilized the 'big misunderstanding' as a plot device. I just hate when authors use it. This book has a more serious tone than most of Stef Ann Holm's works. However, it was appropriate for the subject matter. Altogether, this is an interesting story on several levels.