Winter Woman by Jenna Kernan
Penelope's introduction to the American frontier was the same as many other small girls....that is to say, Little House On The Prairie. Yes, I voraciously read that entire series, and I learned about how difficult it was for pioneers to survive. Cold, unforgiving winters, the threat of starvation, animal attacks, hungry hordes of grasshoppers, sickness without modern medicine, and Native Americans who could be friend or foe.
(I also suspect that my beard fetish may have its origins with Pa Ingalls, but let's not go there.)
Needless to say, there is the potential for a lot of conflict in frontier-style romance novels. I usually don't like them because of this. In particular, the threat of hideous torture, scalping and disfigurement by angry natives causes me great anxiety. So much so, that I can't relax and enjoy the book.
After attempting to read several well-beloved pioneer/western romance novels, and being horribly disappointed, I gave up. But someone must have recommended Winter Woman to me (I suspect it's because the hero has a beard for a good portion of the story), and I am so very glad I gave it a go! It is a superb story, with the just the right amount of conflict for me. Cordelia is a missionary's widow, forced to survive the unrelenting winter by herself after her husband's ill-timed death. When the hero Nash first meets her, she is starved, afraid, and desperate. He is gruff, coarse, and has no interest in taking care of this woman.
Their love story was absolute perfection. The skinny city girl learns how to trap and fish and skin a bear, how to fight and trust and use her sharp mind to survive any circumstances. The lone frontiersman learns to share his life with this new partner. He is at first shocked by her determination and willingness to learn and adapt; she earns his respect, then his lust, and finally his love. And eventually, he owes her his very life after a terrifying bear attack. Nash starts out as a wounded animal, devastated by the loss of his first wife, living a solitary and brutal life in the wilderness. Cordelia thaws out his heart and gives him hope for his future--that it could include a wife and family, something he had totally given up on.
There is a wonderful symmetry in this book, a perfect balance of hard and soft, brutal and kind, past and future. It was touching and suspenseful and unexpected. Who would think a well-educated and religious woman would be the perfect life partner for a cynical and stubborn frontiersman? Well, Jenna Kernan made me fall totally in love with both of these characters, and this book is a gem.
Digging those pioneer beards,