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A Reason to Believe
by Maureen McKade
(Berkley, $6.99. PG) ISBN 978-0425-21662-0
****
Maureen McKade has written yet another western romance that hits the mark. In A Reason to Believe she brings together two people who have made mistakes, lived to tell about it and are willing to keep taking risks to make more of their lives.

Dulcie Pollard McDaniel is a widow with a four-year-old daughter trying to run her father’s farm. Her husband was a soldier for the South who she seduced in order to get out of Locust, Texas. Sadly, beyond satisfying her physically, he wasn’t much of a husband. He drank and he whored, and was killed one night during some drunken revelry. Dulcie hitched a ride with a peddler and returned to Locust only to have her drunken father accused of murdering one of the town’s prominent citizens and lynched by a mob. Dulcie knows he was really passed out drunk at the time of the murder but no one believes her, particularly the sheriff, who is trying to underplay the fact that he let a mob take someone from his jail. Now Dulcie is trying to keep the farm amidst the shunning of many of the townspeople.

Dulcie is also dealing with lots of guilt. She is ashamed that despite his lack of worth, she loved it when her husband made love to her. She also used her body to pay for her travel back to Locust by sleeping with the peddler. She is determined not to let her body rule her actions again, for her daughter’s sake. When she finds herself finding solace in whiskey at night to fight the loneliness, she realizes she might have a problem.

Rye Forrester is ex-army who spent time in the stockade and bears the brand of a deserter. After he lost his wife and child, he turned to booze. During one of his binges, he missed his shift and dared another man to walk on a roof, where he fell and died. That man was Dulcie’s husband, and now Rye feels guilty for leaving Dulcie a widow. He has traveled to Locust to apologize and assuage his guilt. He is also partially searching for his brothers from whom he was separated at an orphanage 20 plus years ago. He ends up getting hired by Dulcie to work her fields so she can harvest her crops. Rye does not tell Dulcie who he is because he is afraid of her rejection.

Although an unlikely pair, these two work together well and come to rely on each other. While there is sexual attraction, the real romance develops as they learn to trust and to judge people by their actions, not by perceptions. Dulcie is both spunky and exposed, a combination that Rye can’t seem to resist. Rye has some residual angst from his losses, but he is ahead of Dulcie in his healing. He has already shunned whiskey as an answer and is trying to own up to his shortcomings.

Dulcie’s daughter plays the predictable role of gaining their trust and helping Dulcie see Rye as a gentle man, someone different than any man she has previously known. Rye also befriends a local orphan, often seeing himself in the little boy.

There is predictability here that feels comfortable rather than tiresome. Part of the reason is the vulnerability of the two characters. They are strong because they have no choice if they hope to survive. Yet, they show weakness at night when no one is looking. It was difficult to watch Dulcie struggle with her feelings of sexuality, yet it was true to the times that a woman would not willingly accept herself as someone with physical needs. Rye, on the other hand, carries his guilt well. He knows he made a major mistake and is determined to do something right for a change.

It is only through the talent of McKade that this story is filled with hope and blossoming love rather than the despair that it could have wallowed in. Even when the world seems to be at its worst, there are rays of hope that keep the tale moving. A Reason to Believe keeps the hope alive that the western romance is not dead and delivers a pretty good story to boot.

--Shirley Lyons


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