Beloved Outcast (Harlequin Historical #333)

By: Pat Tracy

Series: The Guardsmen

Book Number: 1

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Synopsis

Logan Youngblood has gotten on the bad side of the commander of the Army fort near his hometown of Trinity Falls in the Idaho Territory. The man mistakenly believes that Logan had an affair with his wife, and Logan also happens to be friendly with a local band of Shoshones while the commander hates all Indians. When Logan comes to the fort with a warning about an impending Indian attack, but refuses to lead the troops to the camp of his Indian friend, the Colonel gives him a beating and locks him up in the stockade.

Victoria Amory was traveling west with a wagon train on her way to fulfill an employment contract to be a tutor to a young girl, but was left behind by the wagon master when she refused to lighten her load by throwing away her precious books. Alone and uncertain of whether she is even going the right direction to get to Trinity Falls, Victoria happens upon an abandoned fort where she decides to spend the night. It doesn't take long for her realize that someone is locked in the stockade. Even though she thinks Logan is a criminal and doesn't believe his proclamations of innocence, Victoria's conscience won't allow her to leave a man to die, so she finally releases him. Logan helps Victoria get to Trinity Falls safely, while Victoria believes it her duty to try to reform the man she believes is a thieving rogue. Along the way the two fall in love, but how will Victoria react when she finally discovers the truth, that Logan is actually her new employer?

Review

Beloved Outcast got off to a pretty good start and exhibited the potential to be a great book, but in the end, suffered from some pacing and character development issues. The first half of the story was taken up by the protagonists making a two-week journey from the abandoned Army fort where Victoria found Logan to Trinity Falls, the town where she had been heading and where Logan lives. During this time there are no secondary characters to speak of except for Logan's Native American friend who doesn't show up until they are just outside of town. The hero and heroine have no one but each other to play off of, and they spend a lot of time in extensive periods of introspection and overlong, relatively trivial conversations that sometimes veered off onto rabbit trails, rather than sharing more personal details of their lives with each other, which made the plot drag for me. Actually it is only the first three days and the last day of the trip that are even detailed with the rest being skipped over, and during that time very little occurs except the traversing of the trail and the typical day to day hardships that one might expect on the frontier. I know that this type of scenario can be written in a more exciting way though, because Lorraine Heath's Texas Destiny has a similar "road trip" theme where the hero and heroine were alone on the trail for nearly two months, and I never once felt bored while reading it. Also, in my opinion, the attraction and romance between Logan and Victoria often felt rather forced with the author doing a lot of telling about their feelings, but not really showing them. There were a couple of moments of a more romantic nature, but not quite enough to suit me or to convince me that this couple had fallen in love. In fact, up until the end of their travels, I didn't feel much more than lust emanating from the pages. The second half of the book was somewhat improved. It at least had some action and wasn't moving at such a plodding pace, but the actual romance still left something to be desired in my opinion.

Logan and Victoria were generally likable characters, but I felt that the author really only scratched the surface of who they were, when she could have dug much deeper. Logan was a womanizer who had been hurt by the perceived betrayal of his brother and former fiancée and had vowed never to fall in love again or marry because of it. Of course, Victoria changes his mind about that in two short weeks, but other than the author telling me that he had fallen in love with her, I never really understood why, as they didn't really get along very well or have much in common. He mainly just seemed to be overcome with lust for her because she was an attractive woman, and he had been tempering his associations with loose women ever since he took responsibility for his young ward. Logan was definitely an alpha who only exhibited a few rare moments of softness. He certainly wasn't given to any romantic notions, and even his marriage proposal was more of a demand than a question. His time with the Shoshones and friendship with Night Wolf, as well as his reasons for taking on Madison as his ward were only cursorily explored, which was quite disappointing and made it seem like these things were only present in the story as convenient plot devices. In fact, both Night Wolf and Madison were interesting characters who I would have liked to see more of.

Victoria was a proper Boston lady whose reputation had been ruined through an unfortunate but amusing mishap. She decided to accept an offer of employment as a tutor to Logan's ward and undertake the arduous journey west to escape the taint of scandal. Since she had contracted for the work through Logan's man of business, she had no idea who Logan was when she first met the battered man who was locked in the stockade of the abandoned fort and left to die. I did appreciate that Victoria acted with a degree of caution when she found Logan in the stockade rather than immediately releasing him which could have been to her detriment if he truly had been a criminal. It was certainly understandable that she would initially think Logan might be a desperado, but after traveling with him for a while and gaining a measure of trust in him, one might think that she would begin to question whether his claims of innocence might be true. Instead Victoria stubbornly insists on continuing to think the worst of him throughout the entire book until the very end when she finally believes in him when it counted the most. I guess it felt like too little too late for me though, because her lack of faith in him up to that point just didn't go a long way toward fostering romantic feelings. I did enjoy and deeply relate to Victoria's love of books, and for an Eastern lady, she certainly had some spunk.

There were a few other things that I liked about Beloved Outcast. I always seem to enjoy the frontier setting and this one was no exception. I enjoy learning what life was like back then and how the west was settled. I was particularly intrigued by the triple waterfall and hot springs that Logan showed Victoria at the end of their journey and had some fun imagining how beautiful they must have been. The hot springs love scene was fairly steamy (pun intended;-)), and unique for its location. I was also amused by the "game" Logan and Victoria played with her books. It was her refusal to lighten her load by leaving her precious books behind that got her into trouble in the first place, and when Logan took over he insisted the books had to go too. Every day he would take a few books out and she would find them along the trail and put them back in which was rather funny, as were the questions Logan asked Victoria when she initially didn't recognize him all cleaned up and looking the part of the businessman he was. Overall, Beloved Outcast was a worthwhile read. Information on Ms. Tracy's books is a bit scanty, but Beloved Outcast appears to be either the first book of The Guardsmen series or a prequel to it. I haven't yet figured out the connection between this one and the next book Cade's Justice, but Logan's brother, Burke, is the hero of the third book, Burke's Rules and Victoria's sister, Annalee, is the heroine of the fourth book, Hunter's Law. Neither Burke nor Annalee were actual characters in Beloved Outcast but they were mentioned quite prominently. This was my first book by Pat Tracy, and even though she didn't exactly wow me with it, I will likely try another before passing judgment on her work, especially since I have the next of the series waiting on my TBR pile.

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