Tucker McCade is a half-breed who has lived with violence his whole life. He was first abused by an alcoholic father as a boy, and then watched as his parents and the entire town were slaughtered like animals by Mexican soldiers. Only he and seven other young boys survived, and they banded together as Hell's Eight, riding for revenge and becoming one of the most feared gangs in Texas. Eventually, Tucker took up the life of a Texas Ranger, where he deals with savage murderers and other criminals almost on a daily basis, and lately has been hunting for the missing twin sister of Desi, his Hell's Eight "brother" Caine's wife. Except at Hell's Eight, Tucker has always been an outcast, because of his mixed blood, never truly fitting in either the White or Indian world. Deep down he longs for love and family, but believes that no woman would ever marry him, not even the one he yearns for with all his heart.
Sally Mae Schermerhorn was also orphaned at a young age, but she was taken in by a loving Quaker family. As a result, she was raised a pacifist, believing that there is good in everyone. Tucker took up temporary residence in her barn every time he passed through town, and when her husband was murdered, Sally was glad to have Tucker around. He has been a source of strength and protection for her, and as the memories of her husband have begun to fade, she finds herself extremely attracted to Tucker. Sally's Quaker beliefs also view everyone as equals, so the color of his skin doesn't bother her in the least. To the contrary, Tucker stirs a hidden wildness within her blood that she always sensed was there but could never let out. He understands her in ways that no one ever has, and when they finally give into passion, their joining is explosive. Sally allows herself to do delectable things with Tucker that she never would have thought possible, while all along telling herself that this is only temporary, because a real relationship with him could be dangerous in more ways than one. Sally also cannot allow herself to marry a man who lives in a violent world that goes against everything she believes in, but she can't seem to convince her heart that this is nothing more than a brief affair. It will take a small miracle for Tucker and Sally Mae to find a compromise that they both can live with, but a case of mistaken identity may ruin their chances of happiness forever.
When I picked up Tucker's Claim, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I had loved Caine's Reckoning, the first book in the Hell's Eight series, but the second, Sam's Creed, was in my opinion, a weak installment that left me feeling pretty underwhelmed. In the end, Tucker's Claim definitely put this series back on track for me with a wonderful character-driven narrative that made me fall in love with both its hero and heroine. It was a lovely story of two lonely people with similar traumatic experiences in their backgrounds, but from opposite fringes of society. Neither have ever truly felt like they fit in, but they find love, acceptance and wholeness in each other's arms.
Tucker is a half-breed Indian who was raised in the white world until Mexican soldiers razed the town where he lived, slaughtering everyone in their path. Tucker was one of only eight boys (the eight men who now comprise Hell's Eight) who survived the attack and banded together seeking vengeance. Since then he has started to live a slightly more respectable life as a Texas Ranger who is feared by most for both his large size and fierce reputation, but his mixed blood still makes him a target and leaves him with few options in life. Even before the attacks Tucker's boyhood was one of misery and abuse at the hands of his father. As a half-breed, he never really fit into either the white or Indian world, so except for when he is among Hell's Eight, he has never really known love or acceptance. His longing to be loved for who he is was apparent very early in the story and only deepened as it went on, but he can't seem to believe that any woman, especially one like Sally Mae, could ever care for a "savage." Not to mention, he fears for what the townspeople might do to both of them if they ever found out about their relationship. I couldn't help but fall a little in love with Tucker right from the start. I loved how he had continued to come back to the little town where Sally Mae lived time after time, just to be near her and protect her, but allowed her the space and time she needed to grieve her husband's murder. When they finally came together, he was an amazingly giving lover, but also scrumptiously possessive. He was absolutely wonderful with animals and kids too. Tucker may have had a hard exterior but inside he had a kind, gentle heart of gold. Given his background, it's pretty astounding that he could be so tender, but Sally Mae always brought out the best in him. By the end of the book, I was positively crazy about Tucker, and he has earned the title of my favorite Hell's Eight hero so far.
Sally Mae was raised by Quakers from the time she was about ten years old, after her parents were killed. Suffering from traumatic amnesia, she can't remember anything prior to the time she started living with the Friends. Their peaceful ways helped to calm her troubled mind and spirit, so that she was able to recover in every way except her memory. She had married Jonah, a man fifteen years her senior, and they moved west, hoping to help people. He was a good man and a talented physician who taught her everything he knew, so that when he died, the townspeople began to look to her when they needed doctoring. Even though Sally and Jonah had a comfortable marriage, she always felt like something was missing. There was an underlying passion within her to which Jonah was not responsive, and she had always wanted a child while he wanted to wait. When Jonah was killed, Sally Mae's world might have fallen apart if Tucker hadn't been there, lending her his strength along with his protection and a helping hand. When Sally finally gave in to her attraction for Tucker she did so with wild abandon, giving him all of herself. Even though marriage between a white woman and a half-breed seemed impossible to outsiders, Sally Mae's Quaker beliefs made Tucker her equal right from the start in spite of their racial differences. I loved how she was always so kind and accepting of others no matter what. She was just a sweet, kind and giving woman toward everyone, but most especially to Tucker. Her beliefs also make her a pacifist, which was the main sticking point between the two of them, since Tucker's life was filled with violence on a regular basis. I respected her choice, because sometimes it takes more courage to choose the path of peace than the path of force. I also thought that Sally had great strength of character in many ways, not the least of which was meeting Tucker half-way so that they could have the future they both dreamed of. I know some readers were off-put by Sally Mae's use of "thee" and "thy" in her speech, but it didn't bother me at all. I thought it rather added to the sweetness of her character, while also being accurate vernacular for a Quaker in that time period. Sally was just a wonderful character who was full of depth and one of those rare heroines who I thoroughly liked and related to throughout the entire story.
As a couple, I thought that Tucker and Sally Mae complimented each other perfectly. I could feel the deep love connection between them from the very first chapter, even though the story for the most part begins with their wild sexual encounters. Normally, this isn't really my cup of tea, but they had known and been yearning for one another for a very long time before giving in to their passion, which made the early love scenes more likable and believable for me. The author also took the time to create a lovely atmosphere of romance and desire in the opening scene. Those first love scenes are darkly erotic, but laced with an undercurrent of deep tenderness and love which made them very beautiful. However, approximately the first half of the book is all about the sex, leaving me wondering when they were going to share their backgrounds, hopes, dreams, and all the little things that add intimacy to a romance. The reader gets to know Tucker and Sally pretty well through their introspections, but it seems that the author decided to wait until the second half to get to the relationship building. From that point on, there aren't any interactions of a sexual nature until the very end. While I was quite relieved to finally have them opening up and getting to know one another, I thought writing it this way left the story with a bit of an unbalanced feel. I did however, love that the conflict is mostly of an internal nature, with Tucker and Sally Mae trying to figure out how to reconcile their differing beliefs on violence, and I think Sarah McCarty did a very good job with that, and with driving home the point that marriage is always a compromise. I felt that both characters grew throughout the story and found their middle ground in believable ways which left me satisfied.
Since Sam's Creed had no input from other Hell's Eight members besides Tucker, it was great to finally see some of the other characters again. Caine and Desi (Caine's Reckoning) are awaiting the birth of their first child back at Hell's Eight. Sam and Bella (Sam's Creed) have settled into running the Montoya ranch, but surprisingly are still not married. I like that Sally and Bella have become good friends and even share a prayer for the safety of their men in spite of the differences in their race and religions. The twins Tracker and Shadow also returned still running down leads on Desi's missing sister, Ari, along with Tucker, and we get to learn just a little more about the pair. It was interesting how Shadow was intuitive enough to recognize that Sally was every bit as lonely and outcast as Tucker. He and Tracker could shape up to be quite fascinating characters if written well. I had speculated from book #1 that Tracker would probably be paired with Ari, and am pleased to know that I was correct in my assessment, as their book, Tracker's Sin, is the next of the series.
Other than the one small issue I mentioned earlier, the only thing that kept Tucker's Claim from being a perfect 5-star read for me was the author's tendency to make silly little continuity errors, things like Sally being in her nightgown and then suddenly fully dressed or a horse changing gender no less than four times, three of which were within a few paragraphs of one another. These might seem like small things, but when there are several of them that are pretty blatant to anyone who's actually paying attention, it can get a little annoying. There were also some parts scattered throughout the story where I thought the narrative could have used a little more clarity. As written, there were passages that I had to reread in order to be certain I was understanding what was happening. Otherwise, Tucker's Claim was a near-perfect read that I thoroughly enjoyed, and it now has me looking forward once again to Tracker's story and the rest of the Hell's Eight series.
Note: This book contains explicit language, violence, and sexual situations, including mild domination/submission, spanking, use of sex toys, and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive.
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