Carolyn Chandler is a young, pampered heiress from Texas whose banker father has arranged for her to marry a man more than twice her age. Having no desire to enter into the marriage, Carolyn decides to run away to her brother's home in the Dakotas. As she is running through a back alley of Galveston, she trips over something in the dark. To her horror, she discovers that it is the body of a man who has been stabbed, but she quickly realizes that the man is not dead. In spite of her haste to get out of town and the man's assertion that he wants to die, her compassionate side cannot allow him to simply lie there. The man is obviously quite drunk, but when he says that he lives nearby, Carolyn sees an opportunity to help the man while hiding out in a place that her father would never think to look for her. She assists the man back to his shabby hovel and into bed, just as a disreputably dressed, but pretty, red-head shows up. She informs Carolyn that the man's name is Morgan, and goes for help, bringing back an elderly Indian woman who treats Morgan's wounds. Since the red-head needs to return to work, Morgan is reluctantly left in Carolyn's care.
Carolyn tries to make the best of a bad situation, and over the next few days, gently nurses Morgan back to health. When he is well enough to converse, Morgan discovers the reasons for Carolyn being on the run and that she really has no plan for getting to her destination. He offers to guide her there in exchange for the jewelry she is wearing. Although Carolyn is rather wary of this stranger, she decides that getting away from her unwanted suitor is well worth the risk. Disguised as a man, she leaves town with Morgan as soon as he is ready to travel. Carolyn has never ridden a horse, slept outdoors, or taken care of herself a day in her life. The first day on the trail is a grueling experience for her, but she holds her tongue for fear that Morgan will turn around and take her back home. In spite of her ignorance of the real world, Carolyn gradually learns to adapt, and Morgan is surprisingly patient and understanding of her.
As Morgan and Carolyn spend long days and even longer nights alone together, an attraction begins to build between them. They both fight it though, as Carolyn thinks herself too plain and plump for a handsome man like Morgan to take notice of her, and Morgan believes his half-breed heritage and lowly social status makes him completely unworthy of her. They slowly begin to realize that fate may have brought them together to share a future, but the trail is fraught with the danger of Comanchero and Indian attacks, while Morgan struggles with alcoholism and the demons of his past. Morgan and Carolyn manage to spend a few weeks together in an Indian village experiencing peaceful bliss, but once they arrive at their destination, the dangers still have not abated. Carolyn's father and fiance are already there waiting for her, and Morgan must come to terms with his past or risk loosing Carolyn forever. Just as a surprise plot twist seems to bring about happiness for the pair, Carolyn's fiance puts out a warrant for Morgan's arrest with a huge bounty on his head, forcing them to go on the run again and placing them in continued peril. Then they have to deal with the added complication of Carolyn's pregnancy, while Morgan must come face to face with the man he holds responsible for his mother's death and his own miserable childhood.
Midnight Fire is what I would call a cozy romance, the type of book that is nice to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. It was a very pleasant read, but the story lacked a certain depth in both characterizations and plot. It sort of just skims along, telling what is happening without digging deep or going into a lot of details. There were certain scenes where I thought that more details would have helped to shore up the plot, and there were also some minor inconsistencies in details peppered throughout the story. One of the main things that kept me reading though was the action. It made the narrative move along at a very fast pace. It seemed that some new event occurred every few chapters usually threatening Morgan and Carolyn's growing relationship. Admittedly, this type of writing style is not my favorite, because at times, it made me feel like they were being tortured, but at least they were together and happy for the better part of the story. It also made their happily-ever-after ending sweeter in some ways, because it was a very hard fought one. Still though, in my opinion, the story would have been stronger if the author had focused on just a few events in more detail instead of populating it with a large number of events that were simplistically rendered and already over before I had a chance to really get involved in what was happening. In spite of my opinion that this novel was overburdened with plot points, I can honestly say that each and every one of them was wrapped up satisfactorily with generally happy endings for all, and for me a happy ending is always a must.
I liked the hero and heroine, Morgan and Carolyn. I really enjoy tortured heroes and for the most part, Morgan falls into that category. He was basically a loner whose very difficult childhood and mother's harsh words on her deathbed, had left him a broken man, an alcoholic with virtually no self-esteem. I thought that the author painted a realistic picture of the struggles of a man who was half white and half Indian within a historical context. I enjoyed watching him grow and progress from a man who thought very little of himself into a man who was confident and self-possessed. It was also nice to see him forgive the hurts of the past to successfully reconcile with long-lost loved ones. Carolyn, for her part, began the story as the pampered heiress that she was, barely knowing how to take care of herself, but still she rarely complained and developed a certain willingness to work and learn. She also gained a lot of self-confidence from her experiences and progressed from a young woman who was somewhat timid and highly emotional at the start to a more mature woman who was able to take charge when the situation called for it. My only complaint about her character would be that she was a bit too melodramatic at times and cried quite a lot especially early on. While I love sensitive characters, both heroes and heroines, who aren't afraid to cry, I just thought that Carolyn turned on the water works a few too many times. Otherwise though, Morgan and Carolyn were two lovely characters who seemed made for each other.
I liked the way that the author built Morgan and Carolyn's relationship slowly over the weeks that they were alone on the trail, so that when they finally gave in to their attraction, it seemed believable. The book also contained a pretty extensive cast of secondary characters, some likable, some not, and some who grew on me, but all added to the story in some way. I particularly liked the time that Morgan and Carolyn spent with the Lakota, and wished that it might have been explored more fully. In fact, that would probably be my primary issue with the book, that I frequently found myself wishing there were more of everything. Overall, I thought that the story itself was good, it just needed a few more ingredients to give it more flavor. In my opinion, this was a truly romantic read that would have been better if there had been more focus on the internal workings of the hero and heroine's relationship and a bit less on external conflicts. Midnight Fire might not have been as compelling as some other romances that I've read, but in spite of it's weaknesses, was a sweet, warm, and gentle story that was a generally enjoyable and satisfying book which leaves me open to reading more of Madeline Baker's works in the future. There are no explicit love scenes or other particularly objectionable material, making it appropriate for any romance reader. Madeline Baker also writes paranormal romance under the name Amanda Ashley.
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