After the deaths of her entire family during and following the Civil War, there is nothing left to hold Amelia Carson in Georgia, so she advertised her willingness to become a mail-order bride. After corresponding with Dallas Leigh for a year, she accepted his marriage proposal and boarded the train west to his Texas ranch. Dallas had the misfortune of breaking his leg the week before he was scheduled to depart on the long journey to meet Amelia at the train station, so he sent his brother, Houston, in his place. Houston was severely scarred while fighting in the war and rarely speaks more than two words to anyone, so Dallas figures Amelia's virtue will be quite safe with him. When Houston first spots Amelia disembarking from the train, the breath is nearly knocked out of him by her beauty, but knowing that she is Dallas' intended bride, Houston chooses to hide behind his hat and quiet demeanor like he always does. What he didn't expect was that, with nothing more than her sweetness and genuine interest, Amelia would get him talking and thinking about things he'd rather leave buried. The three-week trip back to Dallas' ranch turns into a month and a half, as Houston and Amelia face the perils of the frontier with no one to rely on but each other. Through their hardships and slowly getting to know one another day by day, they can't seem to help falling in love, but Houston harbors deep guilt over something that happened during the war, leaving him feeling unworthy of the happiness Amelia could offer him. Thinking it is the best thing for Amelia, Houston readily turns her over to Dallas as soon as they arrive. In spite of the physical distance that is now between them and her impending marriage to Dallas, Houston and Amelia can't stop thinking about each other, but it may take a miracle to make Houston see the truth about himself and admit the love for her that has been growing in his heart since the day they met.
I absolutely loved the first book I read by Lorraine Heath several months ago, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to try another one of her novels. Whatever the reason, I am so glad that I finally got around to it, because she has given me another gem of a read. Ms. Heath is an author who knows how to write deeply affecting stories with complex, multi-layered characters who are easy to love in spite of their flaws. She also has an incredible perception of human nature and emotions which she conveys with a masterful hand through those characters. Texas Destiny is just such a tale in which the author takes two wounded and lonely, but very strong, individuals, and brings them together in a believable way to find healing, peace and happiness. Although their experiences differed, Houston and Amelia had both endured the horrors of the Civil War, and as such were able to understand and sympathize with one another in ways that others might not have. The added challenge of braving the harsh trail from Fort Worth to Houston's brother, Dallas' ranch added the necessity of their reliance on one another, which built a beautiful bond of trust and friendship between them and ultimately led to a deep and lasting love. Also, in both of her books that I've read, Ms. Heath has an interesting way of presenting the Civil War and its aftermath. In Texas Destiny, both Houston and Dallas were forced by their father to march off to war when they were still mere boys, no older than my own son. When the reader realizes that Houston faced the horrors of warfare and was gravely injured before he was even old enough to have his first shave or loose his virginity, it really put things into stark perspective, and even though it saddened me to think about it, I like that the author didn't shy away from this reality.
I couldn't help but love Houston. When the reader first meets him at the train station in Fort Worth, it seems like he is going to be one of those intense alphas who is a man of few words, but it doesn't take long to realize that he has the sweet sensitive heart of a beta hero. Houston has suppressed that side of himself, because his father beat him every time he thought that Houston was doing the slightest thing that he considered "unmanly" and constantly berated him as being inferior to Dallas. Houston also believes himself a coward, because of something that happened during the war for which he cannot forgive himself. He is disfigured by extensive facial scarring and lost an eye and his hearing in one ear due to injuries he received in the war, so he hides under his hat and people usually tend to give him a wide berth. He has lived a life of relative solitude until Amelia comes along and takes an interest in him as a person, which brings out another side of his personality that his brothers thought was long gone. I thought it was sweet that Houston didn't think he knew the first thing about taking care of a woman, but he keeps doing such thoughtful little things for Amelia like making sure she had a new wardrobe before leaving town or warming water for her each night on the trail so she could take a sponge bath. He also gently nursed her back to health when she was bitten by a snake, and was incredibly protective of her. I thought it was cute how he kept thinking that he had hurt Amelia's feelings by something he had said and needed to find a way to apologize, even though most of the time she wasn't offended at all. In my opinion, all these things showed what a kind, caring person he was inside. Houston did frustrate me just a little when it seemed like he was willing to give up the best thing that ever happened to him, but I understood the depth of his pain and self-recrimination enough that it made sense. In doing so, events propelled him to finally come to terms with the past and take a bold step to make Amelia his.
Amelia was one of those rare, near-perfect heroines for me. She is strong and determined, having lived through the deaths of her entire family during and following the Civil War. Amelia accepted the marriage proposal of a man she had never met, and courageously ventured forth to a wild, untamed land to become his wife, never expecting to fall in love with his brother along the way instead. No matter how difficult things got, she never complained. I loved how she was always looking for something to be grateful for, even in the midst of perilous circumstances. Amelia was a very intuitive heroine who saw through Houston's facade right from the start. She manages to chip away at the walls around him by simply being her sweet, caring self. I enjoyed the way she teased Houston, simply because she wanted the joy of seeing him smile or hearing him laugh, and eventually her efforts were rewarded. I think the thing I liked most of all about her was that right from the start, she was never the least bit put off by Houston's terrible scars. She was never afraid to touch him or look at him with love and compassion instead of the revulsion he normally got. Amelia also never begged or pleaded for Houston to admit his love for her even though she knew it existed. She simply accepted her lot, and patiently waited for him to make peace with himself even if that meant giving him up.
The only two secondary characters who play a significant role in the story are Houston's two brothers, Dallas and Austin. I warmed up to Austin immediately. Although he is only sixteen, he seems to be shaping up to be a sensitive beta hero as well, with dreams that he fears are "unmanly." He is still a boy who deeply misses his mother, but is on the cusp of manhood and learning about responsibility. I'll be interested to see him grow and change in the future books of the series. I had a little harder time liking Dallas, at least in the beginning, not because he is unkind, but because he has a very driven, Type-A personality which makes him seem to only care about building things and leaving his mark on the land. He wants a son more than anything else, and although I believed that he would respect Amelia as his wife and treat her well, I never came away with the feeling that he would ever truly love her. There just wasn't any chemistry between them like Amelia had with Houston. As things progressed and more of the pieces of the past started to fall into place, I came to like Dallas more, but still not quite as much as Houston and Austin. I look forward to reading his story anyway, and I'm hoping that Dallas' heroine will teach him that there is more to life that empire building.
I did really enjoy the dynamics of the interactions between the three brothers. Austin has this refreshing honesty about him that makes him say things in Amelia's presence that has Houston dragging him away by his collar which made me laugh. Houston and Austin seem to have maintained that brotherly relationship, while Dallas is more of a father-figure to Austin and someone that he rather fears. Then, there's Houston and Dallas who don't have much of a relationship at all anymore. It was interesting to see the author turn the proverbial "big misunderstanding" on its ear in this book, by having it occur between these two brothers. Each thinks the other hates him for something he did during the war. Both have been too stubborn to ask the questions that needed to be asked to resolve their differences, because they were too afraid of the answer and so have remained silent on the subject for thirteen years. I was quite shocked by a plot twist that seemed like it would ruin any chance of a happily-ever-after for Houston and Amelia. It certainly was not what I expected at all. I came to a point where I thought I had figured out how the author would turn things around, but I was wrong. Actually though, my way would have been "the easy way," but the way it was written rather ingeniously gave Dallas and Houston both the opportunity to make a huge sacrifice for each other which helped to facilitate a much-needed reconciliation.
There were just so many things to enjoy about Texas Destiny. I loved how the author was able to turn innocent things like shaving, bathing and preparing for bed into a sweetly sensuous experience that was all about a slow build of sexual tension while Houston and Amelia become close friends. Even though there was only one fairly mild love scene that didn't happen until the very end of the book, I hardly noticed because their other interactions were so very satisfying. Amelia's payback request for Houston covertly watching her silhouette as she got ready for bed every night was both funny and sexy, and so was their game of truth or dare which continued throughout the story. I really liked Amelia's spunk and ingenuity in getting what she wanting while still maintaining her sweetness and innocence. The tension between Houston and Amelia wasn't quite as high once they reached Dallas' ranch, because they were no longer together 24/7. Still, the author created enough opportunities for them to spend time with each other to maintain their connection while the rest of the story developed. The ending tied up every loose end I could think of and was so beautiful and romantic, it made it worth the wait. The only thing that could have made it any better would have been an epilogue to show what Houston and Amelia's future would hold, but I'm hoping that they will be back as secondary characters in the rest of the series. Overall, Texas Destiny was a very emotionally fulfilling read that has left me anxious to get to the remaining books in the series as soon as possible, and with two keepers in a row, Lorraine Heath has earned a spot on my favorite authors list too. Texas Destiny is the first book in the Texas Trilogy (aka The Leigh Brothers series). Book #2, Texas Glory features Dallas as the hero, and book #3, Texas Splendor, has Austin as the hero.
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