At the tender age of eleven, Ace Keegan bore witness to his stepfather's lynching and mother's rape, as well as being beaten senseless himself, by Conor O'Shannessy, the drunken town bully and his cohorts. They had bilked Joseph Paxton out of his money and his land, and had framed him for murder. Furious at the injustice that was perpetrated against his family, Ace has spent the last twenty years nursing a thirst for revenge, while building a reputation as a gambler and gunslinger. He has also been biding his time earning a fortune at the gaming tables and through wise investments. Now he has returned to No Name, Colorado accompanied by his three younger half-brothers, Joseph's sons, to regain the family's land and ruin the men who destroyed his family. The only problem is that Conor O'Shannessy has been dead for a year, leaving behind a daughter, Caitlin, and son, Patrick, who have their own trouble making ends meet while working their ranch.
Ace and Patrick have been at odds since the day Ace returned to town. Unfortunately, Patrick has turned to alcohol just like his father, and in several drunken stupors, has wreaked havoc on Ace's property. After Patrick shot Ace's prize bull, Ace decided he'd had enough, and it was time to teach Patrick a lesson. Ace, along with his brothers and ranch hands, visited the O'Shannessy ranch with the intent of carrying out a mock hanging intended only to scare him, but were unexpectedly interrupted by Caitlin. Thinking that the men were truly intent on killing her brother, Caitlin begged for his life, but when that didn't seem to work, she reluctantly made a desperate bargain with Ace, her body for her brother's life. Believing that no O'Shannessy had any honor and that Caitlin would sooner run than keep her word, Ace took her off in private. When it became apparent that she had every intention of following through, Ace put a stop to it and walked out, but his rash actions had already compromised an innocent girl. Ace spent the next few weeks wracked with guilt and doing what he could to protect Caitlin from word of the incident getting out. He later attended a church social intending to apologize, only to discover that Caitlin had already become the object of the town's gossip and derision. Ace's own honor makes him consider marrying the poor girl even though a union with an O'Shannessy certainly wasn't what he had in mind. Getting to know Caitlin a bit better, changes Ace's attitude and compels him to make an offer of marriage.
After years of abuse at the hands of her father, Caitlin O'Shannessy has an extreme distrust of men. She has known no man who could be counted on except the kindly old town doctor and her brother, Patrick, and now Patrick has become unreliable as well. She has been working herself to the bone trying to keep the family ranch afloat, and now Patrick's actions have left her in dire straits. After experiencing freedom from her father's iron fist, the last thing she wants to do is submit herself to another man's control. Marrying Ace Keegan is not on her list of things to do. She has dreamed of getting out of town and experiencing the world, and would have, if everything hadn't gone wrong. When Patrick goes into another of his crazy drunken rages and starts insisting that Ace make things right, she fears for both his and Ace's lives, and reluctantly agrees to the unwanted marriage. Once Patrick is sober again, Caitlin wants nothing more than an annulment, while Ace decides he wants nothing more than to make their marriage real and lasting. Ace's plan will prove to be a challenge when it seems that Caitlin has more then a simple case of bridal jitters, and her fears lead her to some very irrational actions. She is determined to keep her secrets though, and Ace is equally determined to uncover them. He slowly tries to build her trust in him, but it all may unravel if she discovers his own secrets. Caitlin is not yet aware of Ace's real motive for returning to No Name, and the other men who had taken part in the destruction of his family are still alive and well, and may prove to be more of a threat than he had counted on.
I really enjoy emotional stories in which one of the protagonists has a major obstacle to overcome. While Keegan's Lady fit that bill in some ways, I felt that the emotions were not well-balanced and consequently it fell short in other ways. It seemed that the main emotions that permeated a large part of the story were fear, anger and sometimes, hatred, which gave it a rather heavy feel. It seemed to lack the wonderful humor that I've seen in some of Catherine Anderson's other stories. In my opinion, the love feelings between Ace and Caitlin were not as fully developed as they could have been, and the sexual tension was minimal, therefore it was difficult for me to find them fully believable as a couple. It was somewhat easier to sense when Caitlin began falling in love with Ace, though not entirely apparent, but I was hard pressed to say exactly when Ace fell in love with Caitlin. While there were some tender moments in the story, those scenes didn't really dig deep enough into the characters psyches to suit me and also seemed to end far too quickly. Consequently, I felt that the story was a bit lacking in true romance and what I term swoon-worthy moments. I think that there were some opportunities for such moments, but again they were handled with too much brevity and ultimately fell rather flat. The romantic moments that did exist simply did not seem to build on one another in a meaningful way to bring out that heart-stopping love that I have come to expect from romance novels. I think this was a result of the book being too focused on the external conflicts rather than Ace and Caitlin's relationship.
I found the hero and heroine of the story to be pretty likable. Ace was a little more rough around the edges than other Catherine Anderson heroes I have read, but in a rather lovable way. He didn't show quite as much vulnerability as I like to see in my heroes, and I thought that he was a bit too heavy-handed at times, not always allowing Caitlin to make her own choices. It wasn't too bad though, as he always seemed to have her best interests at heart. It's hard not to like a guy who grants a lady her fairy tale dreams, and exercises restraint even when she tries his patience in extreme ways. I also appreciated his intelligent, intuitive nature that helped him to understand things about Caitlin that she may not have even understood herself. Caitlin was an admirable character in that she had the strength to endure the many years of her father's abuse. She had also cared for her brother, Patrick, in many different ways throughout those years, and showed a lot of selflessness toward others. In many ways, I thought that Caitlin's fears and actions were fairly believable for someone who had suffered as she had, but I felt that the story might have been better if she had faced her fears and begun to trust Ace in a more gradual way. Instead she had one explosive moment of seeming insanity, followed by a cathartic confession and gentle lovemaking which seemed to magically set everything to rights. Unfortunately, this approach just didn't work well for me. Overall though, I thought that Ace and Caitlin were good characters, they just weren't explored as fully as I would have liked to see, and I think that the story could have benefited from one or the other lightening up a bit.
There were some interesting secondary characters as well. Ace's brothers were a bunch of sweet, lovable guys. Of course, Joseph, the oldest, was the one who got the most scenes, but even so, I felt that the author only scratched the surface with his character. Most of the time, Joseph had an outward intensity which made him seem almost constantly irritated and grumpy, but his final scenes in the book with Caitlin and Patrick belied something more lying beneath the surface waiting to be explored. It will be interesting to see how Joseph's character develops when he becomes the hero of his own book, Summer Breeze. I actually think that Caitlin's brother, Patrick, may have been the most complex character. The author really kept me on my toes with him, never quiet sure whether to like him or not. It was easy to like the kind and selfless Patrick who took beatings for Caitlin or worked hard to buy her gifts, but it was equally easy to dislike the Patrick who had become a drunken and sometimes abusive hellion like his father. In the end though, I did come away from the story with the sense that Patrick was essentially a good guy who made bad choices when he drank too much, and that he would ultimately be successful in his efforts to overcome his alcoholism. Lastly, I really enjoyed Caitlin's poor, brain-damaged kitty, Lucky. He was a very unique character that brought some much-needed lightness to the story, as well as some insights into his human counterparts, not to mention I can't help being partial to a cat who has the same name as my own kitty.:-)
Keegan's Lady might not be one of my favorite Catherine Anderson books, but I can say that it had an exciting ending. The book tends to have a rather slow pace, and some of the scenes and dialog had been plodding along for me. I had been wondering what was going to happen in the last fifty or so pages that would hold my interest through the end. I needn't have worried, because this is where the author's talent really excelled. With two characters lives on the line and the resolution of a 20-year-old murder mystery imminent, I couldn't put the book back down until I had finished. While Keegan's Lady had both strengths and weaknesses, I thought that it was definitely a worthwhile read. I would probably not recommend it for first-time Catherine Anderson readers, as it is not the best example of her exceptional writing talent, in my opinion. However, established fans should certainly give it a try. Keegan's Lady is the first story in the Keegan/Paxton Family series (aka Coulter Historicals). It is followed by the novella, Beautiful Gifts, from the anthology, The True Love Wedding Dress which features Patrick as the hero, and Summer Breeze in which Joseph Paxton becomes the hero. At present, Ms. Anderson is working on the next book in the series which will probably be released sometime late this year or in early 2010, and will feature Eden Paxton as the heroine. I will definitely be interested in reading that, as well as continuing my exploration of Catherine Anderson's other books.
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