When a gunshot wound to the arm ends Gabriel Delaney's gunslinging career with the Earp brothers, he stays behind in sleepy Newton, Kansas as sheriff while the Earps head west to Tombstone. Newton is quiet enough that a shotgun is all Delaney needs to keep order. His gun belt hangs on the wall, a grim reminder of what he's lost.
Delaney's solitary, bitter existence is turned upside-down with the suicide of Ezra Dancer. Ezra had been dying of cancer; now his pretty young widow, Hannah, is left with a houseful of expensive furnishings and several boarders. Hannah has haunted Delaney's thoughts since their first meeting. Now she's alone, and it's unnerving. Delaney doesn't want any entanglements – the marriage knot is definitely not for him. In fact, maybe he'll hightail it out to Tombstone after all.
Even more unnerving is Ezra's will, in which the grand Dancer house is left to … Delaney. Delaney? True, Delaney once saved the man from being run over by a wagon, but inheriting the house makes no sense, either to Delaney or to Hannah. She's irate, even as she acknowledges her long-suppressed attraction to him. Delaney doesn't know what to do with the house. His first thought is to simply give it to Hannah and leave town before he does something foolish, like try to seduce her. But events conspire against him, and soon Delaney has taken up residence in the house, instead.
Hannah has her own ghosts to contend with. Ezra rescued her from a Memphis brothel after the Civil War, taking her from a penniless existence to one of supreme comfort. Her past is firmly under wraps. So the crippled sheriff and the guarded young widow must learn to reach out to one another if they're to have a chance at love.
The Marriage Knot is saved from predictability by several plot twists. Hannah's background as a reluctant whore is presented as such and left intact, without any phony last-minute revelations of "Well, she was only the cook in the brothel, you see". I respected that, and it gave her character depth and believability. It also made it easier to overlook her occasional bouts of stomping and huffing and general temper tantrum. Her method of dealing with her growing feelings toward Delaney is to pitch a fit or two. But eventually she begins to mature in her reactions.
Delaney is also presented realistically. His hand will never be what it was; he doesn't become a sharpshooter again at the end of the story. But by then, he doesn't need to be. And with the best twist of all, it will be Ezra's past, not Hannah's, that will come back to cause all sorts of complications.
A well-plotted book with lively characters and a pleasantly steamy romance is always a pleasure to recommend. The Marriage Knot is sure to entertain fans of western historical romance.