Patricia McLinn makes an effortless transition to historical romance with Widow Woman, one of the most entertaining and interesting western historicals I've read in a long time. If you like books with smart, determined heroines who also have a good dash of common sense and enigmatic, loner heroes with hearts ready to give, this book is tailor-made for you.
Rachel Terhune is indeed a widow woman, a young one determined to hang onto the small ranch her father founded and her dead husband never appreciated. She has the smarts, but what she lacks is the manpower. Most of her ranch hands have been lured away by other ranchers. One of those ranchers wants her ranch, and her hand in marriage. Rachel is determined to hold out as long as possible.
Into the picture rides Nick Dusaq, a loner who hires on as a way to kill time while he scouts out a property in the area. Rachel first meets him while he's bathing in the creek, causing her great embarrassment and him great amusement. When Nick turns out to be a fine hand and a natural leader, Rachel begins to wish he'd stay on. Nick, meanwhile, is fascinated by the pretty widow with the big dreams of raising quality cow horses.
Nick's past has led him to distrust women, and he has a younger sister to provide for. He's afraid of falling in love and letting his heart be involved, which is by no means a new theme, but one that the author makes work. I never doubted Nick's motivations, not for an instant. The one major irritant I found in the story was that Nick, at a crucial moment, gives in to a fit of the sulks and self-pity. To excuse his behavior, Nick reaches back to a single conversation between Rachel and himself as proof of her distrust and his unworthiness. The accusations he hurls at Rachel don't hold water and they lead her to make an important decision, one which drives the plot for the last third of the book. It's resolved and resolved well, though.
The supporting characters really flesh out this novel. There's Davis Andresson, a greenhorn whom Nick takes under his wing. There's Nick's younger sister, Alba, survivor of an abusive marriage. These two form a lovely secondary romance. Even the so-called "bad guys" aren't quite what they seem, and there are some surprises in store for readers at the end.
I can easily recommend Widow Woman to lovers of western romance. Patricia McLinn brings a fresh voice and interesting characters to this sub-genre, and I hope we hear more from her.