Emily is a mere soldier's widow, a soldier's daughter. What could she possibly offer the Duke of Avon, a man with who's disfigurement isn't the leg that doesn't work properly, but the soul that's been so terribly hurt? Dominic Maitland knows the true worth of Emily isn't in a title or wealth, but in a heart that's his heart's desire.
Purchasing this book because of Heather Graham's name on the cover, I was surprised to note that I enjoyed Gayle Wilson's story more. Perhaps it is not fair to say that; Wilson's story was full-length while Graham's was about 100 pages. It is very hard to fully flesh-out characters in such limited space.
Lonesome Rider (Heather Graham) Half-breed Blade McKenna has been trailing the three men who killed his white father, his wife and their unborn baby (years before). Town folks admire the man but they don't get in his way or antagonize the man.
Mrs. Jessica Dylan is looking for someone to take her to the land her soldier-husband had begun to homestead before his death. She asks to hire McKenna and he is brusque in his brush-off. He is devoted to the revenge of his family and doesn't have time for someone else's piddling problems. When he cannot dislodge the woman, he offers her a shocking proposition. What he is not aware of is that her husband was murdered by officers at the local fort. Jessica is on a mission to restore her husband's good name. However, her actions soon endanger her own life.
The Heart's Desire (Gayle Wilson) This is the first story in the 'Heart's Desire' trilogy. This story takes place mostly in Great Britain during the closing months of the war between England and Napoleon.
Emily is a widow, having followed her husband in war. She is also the daughter of a gifted military leader (Sir William) and the sister to three honorable soldiers. The two older brothers have died during combat before the story opens. The last brother is gravely ill (and near death). The family goes back to England, hoping to help him recover.
Sir William is soon working at Whitehall, behind a desk in the war effort. He and Dominic Maitland (the Duke of Avon) work together to find the traitor who is leaking secrets to France. Dominic's backstory is tragic; his father rejected Avon because of his disability. Avon has been involved in the war effort as a spy. Since he cannot serve in the military, Avon does the thing he can do -- and he does it extremely well.
This is an emotional story because of the life-and-death actions various characters are involved in and the effects these actions have on their friends and family. Avon is a suave and worldly aristocrat, significantly older than Emily. Although he quickly falls in love with her, he knows that he will not marry (his father told Avon that his disability was hereditary and that he should never have children). So Avon is cruel to Emily in order to kill her interest in him.
I questioned why Emily was such a fool around Avon until I realized that she'd grown up without a tempering mother's guidance. However, the constant misunderstandings between the couple got old quickly. In spite of the irritations, I'm glad I read this book.
**1. The Heart's Desire (1994)
2. The Heart's Wager (1995)
3. The Gambler's Heart (1995)