Art gallery owner Cora Talmadge is on vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona and about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. She has no idea what possessed her to agree to her friend's idea to go parachuting, and her anxiety is only worsened by discovering that the hunky sky-diving instructor with whom she'll be making her tandem jump is none other than her ex-boyfriend, Adrian de Vargas. She and Adrian experienced an intense connection that led to lots of steamy nights together years ago when they were quite young, but Adrian was always an adventurer, while Cora felt like she couldn't keep up. Fearing that she was holding him back from his dreams, she left him in Nepal just as he was about to scale Mount Everest, and she hasn't seen him since. But when a mysterious whirlwind blows them back in time to the nineteenth-century Old West, Cora may find a strength of spirit she never knew she possessed and a realization that she's still in love with Adrian.
Adrian de Vargas was found abandoned in the desert as an infant and later adopted. He has no idea who his biological family might be, but one thing he does know is that he's never stopped loving Cora. That's why, when he found out that Cora was going to be visiting, he schemed with her friend to get Cora to visit his sky-diving operation. When the whirlwind blows them into the past, Adrian finally gets to meet his real family. For the first time, he experiences what it's like to be part of a Native American tribe and finally feels like he's home. He decides to take advantage of the situation to exert his masculine dominance over Cora and thinks that if they can just stay in the past, she'll be his forever. At the same time, he hopes to use his knowledge of the future for the betterment of his tribe. But when Adrian discovers the man who killed the biological brother he never knew, tribal law demands that he seek justice - a life for a life - but the modern man in him balks at the directive. Can Adrian find a way to merge the present with the past, while winning back Cora's heart?
Last year, I read Stobie Piel's Blue-eyed Bandit, not knowing that it was the second in a connected time-travel duet. While reading, I suspected I was already supposed to know two of the supporting characters, and then an advertisement for Free Falling which appeared in the back of the book, confirmed that fact. I ended up loving Blue-eyed Bandit, so I was eager to try out Free Falling. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to its sequel for me, making me glad that I'd read the second book first even though I have a strong dislike for reading series books out of order. One of the main problems I had with this book is that I felt the plot kind of meandered. It almost seemed like the author didn't have a clear picture of where things were going, and so as a result, neither did I as the reader. This made the book rather slow and plodding at times, punctuated with bursts of action here and there. However, everything never quite came together into a cohesive whole for me. Sure, the main protagonists made it to their HEA ending, but there wasn't a lot of rhyme or reason to them getting there. Also I thought their characterizations were uneven and didn't go deep enough, making it difficult to get a read on them and genuinely relate to them. Ultimately this wasn't a terrible book, but neither was it a great one. It simply left me feeling kind of "meh."
Adrian was found abandoned in the desert as an infant, and although he thinks he's a mixture of Native American and Latino, he doesn't know anything about his real parentage. He was adopted and raised in a loving, multi-cultural home and was well-educated. He's always been a daring, outdoorsy type, though, so he started his own business, offering sky-diving and other adventurous activities. Nine years ago, he met and fell in love with Cora, but she left him in Katmandu, just as he was about to attempt a climb of Mount Everest. He hasn't seen her since, but he hasn't stopped loving her either. When a chance meeting with one of her friends reveals that Cora will be visiting the desert Southwest, he can't pass up the opportunity to see her again, so he conspires with the friend to get Cora to go sky-diving. The expedition ends with the two of them time-traveling to the Old West via a mystical whirlwind, where he meets his real family. He thinks that he's finally found the place where he truly belongs, but being a modern man in a more than a century-old environment proves more difficult that he expected.
Normally I'm a complete sucker for Native American heroes, but Adrian never fully captured my heart or imagination. For starters, he's very accepting of having time traveled, with no real doubts or qualms at all. Also, although his adoptive parents made sure that he was exposed to his heritage, he's never really spent any time with a Native American tribe, yet he instantly fits in with them and has an almost overblown sense of responsibility to them. I understand a person wanting to help their people, but him being willing to give up everything for a family and tribe he'd just met with little thought process going into it was a bit hard to swallow. However, the biggest issue I had with Adrian is that he goes from a contemporary man with seemingly modern sensibilities regarding most things, to a you're-my-captive-and-I'm-going-to-have-my-way-with-you caveman literally overnight. Thankfully there was nothing close to forced seduction that takes place, but still he was being way too much of a chest-beating alpha male for my taste. Admittedly he does tone it down some as the story progresses and has moments where he feels guilty about parts of his behavior, but it doesn't stop him from being ridiculously jealous of a young cavalry officer they meet who develops a crush on Cora. Another problem I had is that Adrian was clearly hurt by Cora leaving him, but I never felt that emotion palpably and little discussion of the incident occurs. He's merely determined to keep her this time even if he has to trap her in the past to do it. Despite not caring for some of his actions toward Cora, I will, however, give Adrian props for being a diplomat. He always tries his best to use his knowledge of the future to find non-violent solutions to help his tribe and attempts to have talks with the white men rather than attacking even though they aren't particularly receptive.
Cora met Adrian when she was nineteen and had a whirlwind affair with him that left her feeling breathless, but his adventurous personality was so far removed from her own that she felt like she'd be holding him back if she continued the relationship. That's why, even though she loved him, she left him in Katmandu and hasn't seen him since. She's never really stopped caring about him, but when she realizes that he's going to be her sky-diving instructor, she becomes nervous, fearing that she may fall prey to his charms again. Feeling that they're far too different to have a real life together, she's determined not to let that happen. But after being blown into the past by the mystical whirlwind, she can't seem to help herself. I had a hard time getting a read on Cora. Admittedly she's a kind, caring person, but she doesn't really seem to have a lot of depth to her characterization. In fact, sometimes, she comes of as a little ditsy. She at least has some doubts about the whole time travel thing until she can't ignore the evidence anymore. At first, her modern sensibilities get in the way, but then she assimilates pretty quickly into tribal life. She goes from wanting to return to the future to a willingness to give up her life to stay in the past with Adrian with little thought going into it. However, the main part of Cora's story arc involves her going from a non-adventurous person to gradually becoming more and more daring until she literally risks her neck to save Adrian. Character growth like this is a good thing, except that I'm still having a hard time putting my finger on exactly how all that happened. I think I just didn't fully connect with her motivations.
The overall story had some issues as well. Adrian and Cora seem to go from one problem to the next, and by the end, I still didn't feel entirely satisfied with how things wrapped up in the past. There's a villainous character named Tradman, who was essentially responsible for the death of Adrian's biological brother and his family and who is also implied to be responsible for the death of a local rancher which was blamed on the Indians. However, he never really gets a satisfying comeuppance. A high-ranking officer at the fort is revealed to be crooked as well, and his end is nothing more than a mutiny that takes place off-page. Having read Blue-eyed Bandit first, I already knew that he gets what's coming to him in that story, but I can't recall Tradman being in that book. He might have been and I just forgot, but in any case, I felt like at least one of these men needed a good walloping by the end of this book. Cora does outsmart Tradman and momentarily gets the upper hand, but it simply wasn't enough to please me. As for the romance, there were parts of it I enjoyed, but on the whole, I didn't feel as much of an emotional connection between Adrian and Cora as I wanted to. I also picked up on a few continuity errors and some mild editing issues. I think my favorite part of the book was seeing Darian, the hero of Blue-eyed Bandit. This guy is utterly adorable with his proper, Victorian gentleman persona and his crush on Cora. Getting another dose of him almost makes me want to re-read his book, but I'll save that for another time. So overall, Free Falling was a decent read. I may not have fully related to the main characters, but I didn't dislike them either. There were parts of the story that held my attention even though as a whole, I felt it had some weaknesses. I'm glad I went "back in time" to see how this untitled duet of books began and don't regret my journey, but it's not a book that I got particularly excited about.
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