Rebecca Morgan was raised in a small church community in Pennsylvania. When the secular world began to encroach on their space, the Brethren decided to head west where there were plenty of wide open spaces to practice their religion in peace. Rebecca went with a second group of settlers, who'd initially stayed behind to sell their land and transport the much-needed funds to their new home in New Mexico. But along the way, the group of peaceful churchgoers were raped and slaughterer by vicious thieves who wanted the money they were transporting but couldn't find it, and Rebecca is the sole survivor. Nothing in her sheltered upbringing had prepared her for such brutality, and the event leaves her scarred mentally and emotionally. When she awakens in the arms of a handsome stranger, can she trust that he's truly a good man who'll look out for her well-being?
Race Spencer left behind his life as a hired gun to become a respectable rancher. He's driving cattle back home to Colorado when he comes across the remains of Rebecca's wagon train. He no sooner finds the beautiful young woman alive, than they're attacked by gunslingers, but Race fights tooth and nail to keep her safe until the rest of his men come to their rescue. With no womenfolk around for miles, it's up to Race to not only tenderly care for Rebecca but to protect her as well, a task that's made extremely dangerous by the thieves who keep coming back, trying to kidnap her in the hope that she'll show them where the money is hidden. As they spend every day together on their way back to civilization, Race soon finds that Rebecca is the kind of woman he's always dreamed of having in his life, but the type he never thought he deserved. Can he keep her alive long enough to realize that dream? And if he does, will she want to stay with him or go back to the remaining members of her church community in New Mexico?
Cherish is one of Catherine Anderson's older, stand-alone, historical romances. It's the story of a young woman who was raised in a strict religious sect. Her church community decides to head west where there's more open spaces free from the encroachment of secular society, and they take a large amount of money with them from the sale of their lands that's intended to help them survive in their new home. Unfortunately, during their journey, the settlers are waylaid by thieves who brutally rape, murder, and pillage their wagon train, and our heroine is the sole survivor. She's found by the hero who is driving cattle to his ranch. With no other women for miles around, the job of caring for her falls on his shoulders, so he looks out for her and protects her. But their burgeoning relationship is tried by the thieves who never found the church money and keep inflicting murder and mayhem on the hero's men and cattle in an effort to get their hands on it. I had a few minor quibbles here and there that I'll address as I go along, but overall, this was a very good story that I enjoyed.
Rebecca has lived a sheltered life in her little church community, but it's been one with which she's been content thus far. The Brethren have chosen a husband for her whom she's to be betrothed to when they reach New Mexico, and she's looking forward to her new life there. However, she's given a harsh lesson in the realities of life when her parents and everyone else in their party are murdered. The Brethren are a peaceful group who don't believe in violence of any kind, so none of them even fought back against their attackers. Rebecca hid in the bushes, which is where she's found in shock by Race as he's passing through with his cattle. He rescues her and keeps her safe when the thieves come back and takes her with him as they continue the journey to his ranch. At first, Rebecca thinks that Race is one of the thieves, but once she realizes he means her no harm, she quickly begins to trust him and his men. However, she's suffering from what I'm sure was a form of PTSD from her ordeal, as well as survivor's guilt and additional guilt over bringing trouble to Race's camp. She ends up becoming very dependent on him, perhaps a little too much so, but given her religious background where she was taught to be submissive, I suppose it fit her character. With Race she has a bit more gumption, but whenever the thieves come around, she has a tendency to run and hide, making me wish that she'd stand up for herself a bit more. But I realized again that her background was probably playing into her actions, as well as the fact that she trusts Race, whereas the thieves understandably scare her to death. I'm happy to report that she does eventually find her confidence and a much firmer footing. It takes a while to get there, but the payoff, IMHO, was worth it. Readers who are more drawn to feisty, kick-butt heroines may not like her, but I thought she was sweet and generally relatable.
Race has had a rough life. He was born to a white trapper and his mixed race (white/Apache) wife, so he's experienced prejudice for his part Native American heritage. His father left them when he was young, and much like Rebecca, he witnessed his mother being raped to death when he was a little boy. After that, he was all on his own and ended up becoming a gun for hire when he was only in his teens. Now he's trying to build a respectable cattle ranch that he hopes will give him a more stable life. Race has dreamed about someday marrying a nice, well-bred lady, but he thought it was nothing more than a fantasy and that no genuine lady would ever take up with the likes of him. Then he meets Rebecca and he's instantly smitten, thinking of her as his angel. He pours all his energy into keeping her safe from the thugs who would do her harm. The only thing about him that was eyebrow raising for me was one scene where he threatens to rape her to prove a point. I knew that he wasn't actually going to do it and deep down so did Rebecca, but rape is a very serious matter, especially given what happened to both of their mothers. Therefore, I don't think it's something that should have been employed in such a flippant manner, even if he wasn't serious, and there could have been a much better to way to go about illustrating his point. Otherwise, though, he's nothing but kindness and patience personified with Rebecca, never blaming her for any of the bad things that happen and willing to give his life to protect her. And when they finally consummate their relationship, he's a tender lover who finds some creative and humorous ways to get around her maidenly objections.
Overall, I very much enjoyed Cherish. Aside from the couple of minor things I mentioned about their characterizations, I really liked both Race and Rebecca. They're two very different people, and yet somehow, they just fit together like they were made for one another. I wouldn't have minded a little more actual romance while their relationship is budding. There were times that so much trouble is dogging them that it kind of overshadowed the more romantic moments. There's also the issue of Rebecca becoming so dependent upon Race that she doesn't want to leave him, which made it a little hard to differentiate whether she was actually in love with him or simply afraid to lose him because of how much she'd already lost. However, once they finally get back to his ranch, the romance ratchets up a bit and I could finally feel that all-important emotional connection. They also both definitely prove their love for one another by the end of the story. So, all in all, Cherish ended up being a very good book that made it onto my keeper pile and is also one that I can recommend to fans of historical westerns who don't mind sweeter characters.
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