Caine Allen is a Texas Ranger and the leader of Hell's Eight, a group of men whose families were murdered when they were teenagers. Even at that tender age, they banded together to ride out and exact justice against the evil-doers, making them one of the most feared groups of men in the entire state of Texas, but they are now trying to live a more respectable life as horse ranchers. Caine and two of his fellow members of Hell's Eight are called upon in their official capacity as Rangers to recover a group of women who have been abducted by Comancheros. As it turns out, the bandits aren't too bright, so Caine and his friends have no trouble tracking them down. As they surround the camp, readying to strike, Caine is both amused and impressed by one beautiful woman who is fighting her captors like a hellcat. Her fiery display provides just the distraction that Caine's group needs to pull off their rescue. Once their mission is complete though, the young woman, who Caine discovers is named Desi, keeps trying to run away. Once Caine captures Desi, all the fight seems to drain out of her, and she begs him not to take her back to town. The other women who were kidnapped with Desi, seem to despise her as well, only adding to the mystery of who and what she is. Caine knows that something must be terribly wrong for her to be so fearful, but cautiously returns all the women to town anyway.
Desi was born and bred to be a proper Eastern lady, but her father, drawn by the romanticism of the old west, decided to move the family there. Not long after they arrived, Desi's parents and brother were murdered by Comancheros and she and her twin sister were taken captive. They were raped and beaten, and eventually a group of men "ransomed" her, only to use and abuse her further as their personal sex slave for the past year. Desi has no reason to trust any man, but when Caine treats her with kindness and gentleness, she finds her fairy tale fantasies beginning to resurface. Desi is wary of Caine returning her to town, and is prepared for the worst, but Caine surprises her by bravely standing up to her abusers and then willingly agreeing to marry her to remove her from their clutches. Caine's actions make Desi want to believe that he is a good man with good intentions, but she has seen far too much of the dregs of humanity to allow him into her heart and life easily. Still, Caine is determined to make this a real and lasting marriage, and will stop at nothing to make Desi feel safe and loved, while Desi's captors will stop at nothing to get her back, for their nefarious plans go far deeper than the mere use of her body for their own pleasure.
In my opinion, many erotic romances have a tendency to suffer from an overabundance of sex and underdevelopment of plot. Fortunately, Caine's Reckoning has no such issues. It has an interesting and engrossing storyline while still maintaining the steamy sexuality that tends to mark erotic romances. The overarching plot of the series, that of eight mostly unrelated but sexy alpha men who have banded together as a "family" to fight evil and injustice, reminds me in some ways of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Although I have to say that since one features sexy cowboys in the old west and the other sexy vampires in a contemporary urban setting, the similarities for the most part, end there. The individual premise of Caine's Reckoning was interesting as well. Between the heart-stopping romance, Desi's struggles to overcome her past, some wild west action, and a light mystery surrounding one of Desi's abusers and his motives, I had a hard time putting the book down. After reading several reviews for this book, I was expecting it to be very violent. While there were a couple of shoot-outs and one short 2 ½- page nightmare sequence that contained an explicit sexual assault, I found that most of the violence was left to the reader's imagination, and wasn't much worse than many other books I've read. That's not to say that it would be easy for everyone to read, and for this reason, I would caution sensitive readers about the content. I think that it simply didn't bother me as much, because in my opinion, the author didn't delve quite as deep into the emotional fall-out to Desi's psyche as some other authors with similar characters have done, and Desi was a very strong heroine as well.
I thought that Desi was an admirable heroine, a young woman who had suffered unthinkable abuse, and yet had never truly allowed herself to become a victim. When the story opens with her courageously fighting her captors like a hellcat while the other women sat passively by, I immediately liked her. Later when she showed tremendous vulnerability, it only endeared her to me further, as did her ability to frequently blush in spite of her "experience." I also found her to be relatable as a young woman who had been raised as a prim, proper lady, but who always felt a burning passion inside trying to surface. It wasn't until she started stubbornly holding herself at arms length from Caine's gentle, loving overtures, that I had a bit harder time with her character, but ultimately, her actions were understandable in light of her past. Some stubborn heroines can tend to annoy me, but that wasn't really the case with Desi. I think I just spent most of that part of the story worried that her willfulness would cause her to do something really stupid, but when she exhibited intelligence and ingenuity in the end, she truly earned my respect. I also thought that when Desi was finally able to fully let herself go and surrender to Caine, trusting him completely, their resulting lovemaking was both darkly passionate and thoroughly beautiful and romantic, a heady combination indeed.
Caine was an incredibly appealing hero. Having lost his family at a young age, like all of the Hell's Eight men, he has a dark tortured past too, but it wasn't explored in as much detail as I would have liked. I suppose that is understandable though, as there shouldn't be too much darkness in one novel, or it would become depressing. Actually, I thought that Caine had a wry and sometime self-deprecating sense of humor which I enjoyed, and which also helped to lighten things up a bit here and there. He is a very dominating alpha male, but he has a heart of gold and isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Desi. He also pampers her in the most thoroughly romantic ways, and has some of the most swoon-worthy lines I think I have ever read in a romance novel. I absolutely loved the way that he is completely committed to their marriage and being faithful to Desi right from the start, even though he had no intentions of getting married anytime soon and basically only agreed to it out of a sense of honor and duty. Even though Caine's every instinct is to dominate, he puts his own needs on hold and shows Desi an unbelievable amount of patience. I liked that Caine was very intelligent and intuitive when it came to Desi's needs. Time and time again, Caine proves that he is an honorable man who can be trusted with anything and who is the epitome of a true gentleman, a diamond in the rough. Even though I'm raving about him, Caine did have a few impatient moments when he allowed his desires to get the best of him, but I was still able to admire him because he immediately recognized his mistakes and admitted he was wrong. All in all, I thought he did pretty well for a guy in the old west who didn't have access to a psychotherapist for his wife.;-) Caine is definitely a hero I'll remember for a long time to come.
Though Caine's Reckoning was good enough to earn a place on my keeper shelf, it wasn't quite perfect. There were several scenes, a few of the love scenes in particular, that I thought were a little too verbose. I'm all for whispering sweet nothings during lovemaking, but sometimes it seemed like they were carrying on an entire conversation. In my opinion, it made these scenes feel rather forced, like the author was trying too hard to convince me of the character's passion and feelings instead of showing me. I think a few more descriptive details and a little less chattiness in these scenes would have made them flow a bit more naturally. There were also several scenes involving dialog, especially among multiple characters, where I had a difficult time determining who was speaking. Going back and reading the passages a second time usually cleared things up, but having to do this multiple times throughout the book was rather distracting. I would have to say that Desi's ability to overcome her past, not only the abuse but the sexually repressive atmosphere in which she was raised, was a little too quick, taking mere weeks instead of the months or even years that any real woman would have likely needed. However, since this is fiction and it was good otherwise, I can allow for a little creative license. I was also a little disappointed that the mystery surrounding the ringleader of Desi's captors was not fully resolved nor justice fully exacted, but I think this was meant to be something of a cliffhanger ending that is going to carry over into a future book or books. Overall, though this was a very good novel that I would definitely recommend.
Caine's Reckoning is the first book in the Hell's Eight series. It introduces the eight members of the group, some with brief background information and some only by name, but one, Sam, is given a slightly more detailed background and more scenes. He becomes the hero of the next book in the series, Sam's Creed. The third book, Tucker's Claim, is due out next spring with another, currently untitled, volume to follow by the end of 2009. Though she is not directly on the canvas in Caine's Reckoning, Desi's twin sister, Ari, is mentioned and does play a part in the mystery that was left unresolved. I suspect that she may become the heroine of a future book, possibly paired with Tracker, since he was the first to volunteer to search for her. Unfortunately, if my assumption is correct, it could be a while before readers get to experience their story. Caine's Reckoning was my first read by Sarah McCarty, but I am really looking forward to continuing the Hell's Eight series and checking out the other books that she has written too.
Note: This book contains explicit language, violence (as mentioned in my review), and sexual situations, including mild domination/submission, spanking and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive. However, considering the subject matter, everything was handled very tastefully in my opinion.
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