Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath
(Topaz, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-40752-0
*****
I've rarely encountered a romance filled with such quiet strength or simple, heartfelt emotion. By nature, I am not a romance reader that breaks down in tears on a regular basis. But I was so touched by some of the scenes in this book that I couldn't help but get misty eyed. The story of two wounded souls who help mend each others' hearts and lives, Texas Destiny is a lovely story that will touch a chord in anyone who has ever dreamed the impossible.

Author Lorraine Heath is on familiar ground here. As she did in last year's Always to Remember, the story focuses on a societal misfit and the woman who gives him the strength to face his fears. This time around the misfit is Houston Leigh, a former drummer boy in the Confederate army who survived the war but was horribly disfigured by the shell blast that claimed the life of his father. The physical wounds, however, are not nearly as debilitating as the emotional scars that have caused Houston to withdraw into a lonely world devoid of love and rife with guilt and shame. Into this world walks Amelia Carson, herself an emotional victim of the war, who arrives in Fort Worth as the mail-order bride of Houston's brother Dallas.

Assigned to escort Amelia to the injured Dallas' remote ranch, Houston is continually on his guard -- he has no idea how to act around women, let alone one as pretty and inquisitive as Amelia. Yet mile by mile, Amelia manages to break down Houston's defenses. Her own personal demons give her insight into Houston's pain, and although she is promised to his brother, Amelia finds herself inexplicably drawn to the sad, somber man who pulls his hat down low to hide his disfigurement. At times it seems as though nature is conspiring to keep them together longer than necessary -- snake bites, storms, raging rivers and wild horses prolong their journey and bring them ever closer together.

I found myself completely entranced by many of the physical elements in Texas Destiny -- Houston's scars, Amelia's hat, the wild mustangs that race across the valley. That same physicality runs through a number of gentle love scenes; it's not wild and crazy lovemaking. It's the touch of a hand, the brush of lips across a cheek. There is a tenderness to Lorraine Heath's writing that is almost heartbreaking. You ache for something to ease the pain of these two people who have endured so much and who are so clearly destined for each other.

Lest I make it sound as though this book is completely maudlin, rest assured, it is not. Amelia and Houston's arrival at the ranch and the introduction of Dallas Leigh adds yet another element to the story. Here is the strong older brother, driven by his need to conquer an untamed land and father a son to carry on the family name. So different from the humble Houston, Dallas is destined for greatness (and his own book). And, yes, because the father of the Leigh brothers was so completely unoriginal, there is yet another Texas city sibling -- Austin -- the baby of the family and a charmer who lights up the page whenever he ambles in.

The love story between Houston and Amelia is one of hope and healing that I found satisfying in just about every way. As I read the book, I found myself experiencing a strange sort of tranquility. I have since determined that this is the same calming effect I experience when in the presence of an old and dear friend. It must be that I learned so much about Amelia and Houston that that is what they became to me -- old friends.

I think Texas Destiny will go on my keeper shelf with the rest of my 'old friends.'

--Ann McGuire


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