Gideon Cade has built a prosperous freighting business in Denver, and to help protect his interests, he's banded together with two of his wealthy friends to form a vigilante group known as the Guardsmen. Three years earlier, he was receiving death threats, and when his brother and sister-in-law used his carriage one night, they fell prey to the murderers, leaving their teenage daughter, Courtney, in his care. Believing there's no room in his heart for a wife and family, Gideon has avoided any romantic entanglements, and although he cares for Courtney, he's rather aloof toward her. Ever since losing her parents, he's had a single-minded pursuit of justice, hunting relentlessly for their killers, until the night that a bedraggled teacher shows up on his doorstep, demanding entry into his home and stirs his protective instincts.
Emma January Step grew up in an orphanage, but when she was old enough, she became a teacher. After receiving an offer of employment at a girl's school in Denver, she headed west, but now the school is in financial trouble. When Courtney finds out about it, she runs off in the middle of the night, leaving Emma sick with worry. Emma immediately goes to Gideon's home to let him know, but when his dour butler won't let her in, she goes to extreme lengths to speak with Gideon. Later that night, the school burns to the ground under suspicious circumstances, leaving Emma with no home and no job. Gideon offers her a place to stay and makes a scandalous proposition to make her his mistress, but when Emma turns him down cold, he instead offers her respectable employment as Courtney's private tutor. Soon, living in the same house with Gideon proves a temptation that's hard to resist, but can he give up his vendetta to let her into his heart?
Cade's Justice is I suppose what would technically be the first book of Pat Tracy's Guardsmen of Denver series. There is another book, Beloved Outcast, that's considered a prequel, because the hero of that book is related to one of the Guardsmen, but otherwise, it isn't directly connected to the series and takes place in a different setting. The basic gist of the series is that three best friends who are also wealthy businessmen band together in response to lawlessness in the area to form a secret vigilante group known as the Guardsmen to protect their interests as well as the city. In this one, we have Gideon Cade whose brother and sister-in-law were brutally murdered, leaving him as guardian of a teenage niece. He's consumed with the need for vengeance and along with the other Guardsmen, has been searching for the killers to bring them to justice. His pursuit has been pretty single-minded until a slip of a young woman shows up at his door in the middle of the night in a bedraggled state. Emma is his niece's teacher who has come to let him know that Courtney went missing after learning that her school was likely going to shut down soon. The woman is both infuriating and amusing, and Gideon finds himself immediately taken with her. That same night the school burns down under suspicious circumstances, so he offers her a place to stay at his house. After unsuccessfully propositioning her to become his mistress, he instead offers her respectable employment as his niece's tutor until a new school can be found for her. The longer they're living in the same house, the hotter their attraction burns until Gideon knows he has to have Emma for his wife. But the same men who murdered his brother are still out there posing a threat to him and his family.
Gideon is a wealthy businessman who earned his fortune in freighting. Before his brother and sister-in-law were killed, Gideon was receiving death threats, so he feels responsible for their demise. He has been relentlessly searching for their killers ever since and gladly took on the responsibility for his niece, Courtney, although he's been rather aloof toward the girl. He doesn't believe there's any room in his life for a wife and family, so he's avoided any romantic entanglements. Then Emma shows up at his door, looking like a drowned rat, demanding to see him. Courtney is safe at home, but annoyed that she and her fellow teachers weren't keeping a better eye on their charges, he toys with her for a while, and is surprised when she holds her own. Gideon almost immediately finds himself feeling rather possessive toward Emma, especially after an old nemesis shows an interest in her after the fire leaves her homeless, so he offers up his home as an alternative. He first offers Emma the position of his mistress, but when she vehemently rejects that idea, he hires her as Courtney's tutor instead. But having her living in his house is a constant temptation that he finds impossible to resist. There's also the matter of his revenge that doesn't leave much room for softer feelings and then the death threats begin again, leaving Emma and Courtney both in danger. In the beginning, Gideon is a tad too much of an arrogant alpha, as well as a bit too chauvinistic for my taste. I felt like he kind of pushed himself on Emma the first time he kissed her, although admittedly, deep down, she enjoyed it. However, I will admit that he lightened up as the story progressed, and by the end, I did like him. He's an attentive lover, and ultimately his love for Emma won out over his need for vengeance.
Emma was placed in an orphanage when she was only three years old, and that's where she grew up. When she was old enough, she became a teacher and went west to accept an offer of employment at a girl's school in Denver. However, she's just been informed that the school is basically bankrupt and will be shutting down for good soon. When Courtney finds out, she leaves without letting anyone know to go home and ask Gideon if he can help them out. Worried sick, Emma trudges seven miles through the rain to Gideon's home to inform him that his niece has gone missing. She exhibits a backbone of steel, first in standing up to Gideon's butler and then to Gideon himself. The man irritates her to no end, but when the school burns down that same night, she has nowhere else to go. She accepts Gideon's offer of shelter as the lesser of two evils, because she's totally creeped out by her employer's nephew, the only other person who offers her a place to stay. The very next day, Gideon makes his scandalous proposition that leaves Emma appalled, but when he promises not to touch her again and offers her a respectable job instead, she can't turn him down. Of course, the longer she's close to him, the more she wishes he would touch her again, and soon she gets her wish. But she doesn't realize just how much danger she's in from Gideon's enemies.
Generally I thought Emma was a nice mix between sweet and sassy, and her background as an orphan made her very sympathetic. However, there were two parts of her characterization that I thought could have been better. First, when Gideon starts getting the death threats again and assigns guards to watch out for her 24/7, she deliberately slips past them at one point for a rather frivolous reason. Then there's a second incident where her guards had been knocked out, but she didn't know that and chose to go with a stranger who claimed Gideon was hurt without telling the butler or another trusted person first, all of which bordered on TSTL. The other thing is that she doesn't think she's pretty at all, even though Gideon repeatedly tells her she's beautiful. I can relate to this type of insecurity, but I like to see the character grow and perhaps at least come to a place where she accepts that her man thinks her beautiful. However, even during the final pages, she hasn't reached that point yet. Otherwise, I liked Emma and thought she had her good points, too.
Overall, Cade's Justice was a decent story that had some good parts. Initially I thought it was on track to possibly receive at least four stars from me. But the further I read, the more I started to see weaknesses in the plot. Being a Guardsman seems to be a pretty big part of who Gideon is, yet we see very little of him in action in this role. I thought that the story might have a decent mystery/suspense sub-plot, but I really felt the author dropped the ball on that promise. It's pretty obvious from the outset who the villain is, although even when it's revealed, his motives are weak and ill-defined. I just saw a huge missed opportunity here to make the story more exciting. Then there's the romance, which was pretty good, but at the same time, could have been even better. Gideon is away from home both on regular business and Guardsmen business for long periods of time, so he and Emma don't even spend that much time together. Because of this, their romance almost had the feel of a love-at-first-sight story, even though it does take some time for them to acknowledge their feelings for one another. I did, however, feel that the love scenes were very well done and fairly steamy for a Harlequin Historical, which was a plus. I also enjoyed the humor surrounding Emma "civilizing" Gideon's men and the secondary romance between the butler and the housekeeper was cute. The dog, Duncan, was a nice touch, too, and the epilogue was a great wrap-up to the story. But in the end, I just didn't feel that the book was quite good enough to make it to the four star mark. There are two more books in the series. Emma's teacher friend, Jayne, becomes the heroine of the next book, Burke's Rules, paired with Gideon's friend and fellow Guardsman, Burke Youngblood. He and their other friend, Hunter, who is the hero of book #3, Hunter's Law, were barely seen in this book, though. I might be open to continuing the series at some point, but after two so-so reads from this author, I may not be in a hurry to do so.
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