Friday, 14 January 2011

Rugged and Relentless - Kelly Eileen Hake

When three landowning women put an ad in the paper expressing their desire for healthy, hard-working husbands-for-hire to help them set up and run a sawmill, they never dreamed their tiny town would be overflowing with proposals from bachelors who responded promptly...and in person! Out of this logjam of potential suitors, which one will Evelyn Thompson choose? Jacob Grainger trails his brother's murderer to Hopesfall where, to keep his true intentions secret, Jacob pretends to court Miss Evelyn Thompson. Will this lumberjack-turned-bounty-hunter find himself falling for the enterprising female?

When four young women head off to the ghost-town of Hopesfall, Colorado to turn it into a bustling, prosperous saw-mill, they end up with far more than they bargained for. While Cora plans to wed her fiancee, she knows it's not safe for her friends to be alone in a town full of men. Thus Evie, Lacey and Naomi come to the conclusion that they need to find husbands - fast. But these unconventional women don't want to wait for the right man to come along and make a proposal; they plan to make sure that they get just what they want by hiring husbands! But when their unusual advertisement brings dozens of men to Hopesfall, rather than the letters they had expected, the women realise that they have a lot more on their hands than they'd anticipated. Especially with the mysterious Jake Creed who seems far too protective over the women, especially Evie. Little do they know that Jake ended up in Hopesfall purely by chance, and is actually searching for his brother's murderer. He certainly didn't expect to find himself protecting three headstrong yet vulnerable women who insist that they want to pick spouses out of the rabble of men that they've put to work rebuilding their town. Suddenly he finds himself in a race to find his brother's killer before the man in question marries one of the women that he's sworn to protect. And he definitely doesn't want Evie to get into this man's clutches...although Jake can't quite figure out why he feels so strongly about the stubborn woman he always ends up arguing with! 

The protagonists of this novel alone make it wonderful. While I adored the setting and the descriptions of the food, Evie and Jake were what made me thoroughly enjoy this novel. Like most women, Evie is insecure, but she also knows how to hold her own and assess situations. Unlike her best friend, Lacey, she doesn't rush into anything - except an opportunity to argue with Jake. She was a really endearing character and I appreciated the fact that she was self-conscious about her curves. As someone who cannot buy trousers anywhere at the moment because years of genetics have given me a more curvaceous derrière than most current fashion-designers admire, I understood Evie's dilemma! So naturally, I became Jake's number one fan when he told Evie to eat more as she was losing weight. Curvy heroines and the men that love them immediately get my vote in any novel. Jake is also a winner because of his caring attitude. While he initially sets out to find his brother's killer and discover what truly happened to his sibling, his plans change when he realises that the women of Hopesfall need protection. He sets aside his own desires in order to help them set up the town, and underneath his stubborn demeanor he's truly a caring gentleman.

The other women intrigued me as well. Despite her frilly clothes and privileged upbringing, Lacey clearly wants to look after her friends and her heart is always in the right place, even if she finds herself useless in the kitchen. Cora appears to be emotional and vulnerable to begin with, but her fight to convince her fiancee that she still wants him despite his injuries really brings out her true character. And Naomi is still a little mysterious to me. She was very quiet throughout the entire novel, yet seemed to be the more reasonable and sensible one of the group. I look forward to reading more about each of them in the upcoming books in the series. There were several interesting characters in the men who arrived in Hopesfall, yet I can't guess which ones Lacey and Naomi will choose as husbands!

One of my only complaints would have to be that the sections from the point of view of the murderer than Jake was hunting didn't really flow with the rest of the story. They felt a bit awkward and it seemed as if the author was trying too hard to be mysterious. The initial scenes with Braden, Cora's fiancee, also had a few odd moments, but this disappeared after a while. Other than that, there weren't any major letdowns but I would have liked a bit more time with Evie and Jake at the end! It was all over far too soon for me. I guess I'll have to wait for the next book to see how their story pans out.

If you're looking for an unconventional historical romance with moments of suspense and comedy, then this spin on the mail-order bride plot is definitely for you. If the protagonists don't win you over, the descriptions of Evie's delicious food definitely will! Look out for the first in the Husbands for Hire series from Barbour in March 2011. 8/10

Many thanks to NetGalley and Barbour for giving me an early chance to read and review this book.

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