~ A hidden gem (5 stars) ~
I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book. I had never heard of Emma Lang (or Beth Williamson, her real name), but Ruth's review intrigued me and I'm a sucker for non-beautiful, odd, and intellectual heroines - which we definitely gate in spades here with Eliza, or "Liz," as Grady calls her. I couldn't find Ruthless Heart at either my library or on PBSwap and I am so glad that I didn't let that deter me and decided to go ahead and buy it; it was a wonderful read and one I know I will pick up again in the future.
When looking at the individual parts of this book, there's nothing really astounding about it. The greatest strength is definitely the main characters and they are, essentially, the focus of the story - which personally is something I like in romances. I get tired after awhile of all the mass murdering stalker psychos or hidden spymaster family secrets, etc. The story is a relatively simple one; because Liz and Grady travel throughout most of the book, there aren't really any secondary characters; and the love scenes are a little more detailed and crudely explained than I'm used to. For some reason though, taken all together, it worked extremely well for me. It was purely enjoyable and left me with a great smile on my face, so for those reasons alone - and because I don't have any real criticism - I knew I had to give it 5 stars.
Note: The summary on the back of the book is misleading / not very accurate, due to omissions - surprise, surprise! Why do romances always have this problem?!
Eliza Hunter (almost 21) grew up her whole life in an LDS community in Utah. She has always been seen as odd and looked down upon by those in her community because of her interest in books and desire to learn - two things that do not befit a woman. She has a brilliant mind and loves to invent different contraptions and designs, though she has been punished and beaten several times by her father for her intellectual passion.
Her younger sister, Angeline, is beautiful and though only 17, an offer of marriage is made for her to their father. Neither Angeline nor Eliza want this marriage to occur, as the man is significantly older than her, already has two wives, and is known to be quite cruel. They are unable to stop it from happening however, and when a month into the marriage Angeline and one of the other wives runs away, Angeline's husband and her father decide to send a hired killer after to teacher a lesson.
Eliza overhears this plan, though she doesn't realize that the man has been hired to kill her sister, only that he's a bounty hunter and has been sent to track her down and bring her back. She decides to follow the bounty hunter and either help her sister escape him or convince him that he would do better to let her escape the horrible fate that awaits her should she be returned.
Grady Wolfe (30) is a loner, a gunslinger, and hired killer. He has never before been paid to track down a woman, but not having a conscience allows him to accept the job without any qualms. Grady is a survivor, having grown up seeing his mother con and kill men, and then having to make his own way by his wits and hunting skills alone. He has no family, no friends, no attachments or place to call home - and none of this bothers him. He is good at what he does, and that has always been - always had to be - enough.
Since Grady is a practiced hunter, he knows right away that someone was watching him outside the saloon and followed him out of town after his meeting with his new employer. What he doesn't expect is that the person is a young woman, plain and unassuming, but brilliant and forthright. He has no intention of having a hanger-on and while the woman has made up some story about being a widow and traveling to stay with family, he doesn't believe the half of it. Unfortunately, he can't seem to get rid of the woman ... and then finds he's not sure he wants to.
As Grady and Eliza travel across Utah, the attraction between them quickly catches fire and they begin to see the other as more than a prissy schoolmarm or a rough loner. As she leaves the confines of a community that has always restricted her, Eliza begins to gain confidence and a sense of freedom that she had before only ever dreamed of. She also quick comes to realize that there is much more to Grady than the hunter (or killer) role he thinks defines him, and while he insists to Liz that he's not a good man, her constant unwillingness to see him as anything but both frightens and warms him.
The more they get to know and depend on one another, the more they want the time together to never end. Yet eventually they will have to make choices and face the reality of who they are - and who they might become. (cue dramatic music)
ELIZA AND GRADY:
As I said, the hero and heroine are the greatest strengths of the novel. Eliza is strong and intelligent (and actually written as if she is, we're not just told she is but shown no proof). She's loyal, brave, generous, and (oh lord!) persistent. I loved how she was always saying and doing things that would catch Grady off guard and throw him for a loop. She's a spitfire heroine, yes, but she's also naive, sensitive, and vulnerable; she puts her heart on the line and is very open and forthright about her feelings, which I appreciated.
Grady is very well-written as the lone hunter and again, Lang writes him such that he actually fits his assigned description, she doesn't just give lip service and then make him come off as warm and fuzzy or outgoing. He's very prickly and while Grady increasingly finds himself helping Liz and beginning to care about her, his own confusion and resistance to this change is so clear and makes the transformation that much more believable. He goes back and forth, between trying to draw Liz closer and never let her go, and frightening her away so that he doesn't become attached to or responsible for someone else. There are some comments or things he does that are not nice because of this, but it was never taken to the extreme that some authors take it where the hero becomes such an a**hole that you want to slap him upside the head and tell the heroine to not ever forgive him.
Together, they are such a fantastic pair!! Just remembering puts a ridiculously goofy grin on my face. The dialogue and exchanges are funny, the chemistry sizzles off the page and requires a fan on hand, and their growing feelings for one another are sweet and tender. They are both, in their ways, loners who feel that they don't have anyone and no one understands them; each fills that need in the other to perfection. I adore that Grady gives her a nickname (Liz) and he's so cute when he remembers her birthday.
I *loved* every single one of their interactions and was appreciative of the fact that most of the book they're alone and on the road, because that makes it so that there is nothing else to detract from the amusing duo that is Liz and Grady. It was hysterical how Grady would criticize - and then eventually tease - Liz about how formally she spoke, telling her that he didn't understand every other word that came out of her mouth; she would sometimes then try to restate it in "normal" terms and it made the entire thing that much cuter and funnier. Also loved when Eliza gets lost in the woods for a short time; when Grady realizes, he starts to freak out - and then freaks out about the fact that he is freaking out and is actually worried about someone else. And of course the makeup scene that follows is one of the best! ;-)
My only real complaint is the epilogue. I love them and am always happier when an author includes them, but she doesn't give us as much info as I would have liked, could have made it longer, and leaves somewhat of a cliffhanger at the end (in order to make us curious about the next book, which is Angeline's story); it's not an actual cliffhanger, but more like an interruption of what would have been a nice epilogue with just Grady and Liz. I also would have liked to know about what might happen in the future with her inventions and Grady's suggestion, and am curious as to Eliza's father's reaction towards her, whether he sends someone after her or just leaves her alone and considers himself well rid of her.
In my opinion, this book qualifies as a definite "hidden gem." I had high expectations, but was also prepared for them not to be lived up to. Luckily for me, the book actually exceeded them. It's simple, sweet, and sexy with lovely dialogue, compelling leading characters, and a well-crafted plot. Know that the love scenes are a little more sizzling than most other historicals, but Lang writes them very well and they fit smoothly with the story and the characters. There are so many great lines that I am going to try to be diligent next time in my status updates with quotes; this time, I was enjoying the story too much to want to stop.
Based on plot or character similarities:
* His Wicked Ways by Samantha James (5 stars)
* Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory (4.5 stars)
* A Notorious Love by Sabrina Jeffries (4 stars)
* McAlistair's Fortune by Alissa Johnson (4 stars)
* Lawless by Nora Roberts (4 stars)
* Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath
* If You Deceive by Kresley Cole (4 stars)