Sam MacGregor is a Texas Ranger and a member of Hell's Eight, a group of men who banded together as teenagers when their families were murdered and are like brothers to each other. Sam has been out searching for the missing twin sister of his "brother" Caine's wife, when he happens upon a burned out wagon train. Hiding inside the wreckage is a frightened but feisty young Hispanic beauty. Isabella Montoya has been on the run from Tejala, the evil man to whom she was betrothed and who murdered her father. She was meeting up with the train outside of town in hopes of finding safe passage out of Tejala's territory, but it was attacked before she arrived. Not wanting anyone else to get hurt, Bella is prepared to light out on her own, but Sam will hear nothing of the sort. He pledges to see Bella safely home and then hunt down Tejala so that she can live in peace.
Bella believes that no matter what Sam does, Tejala will eventually catch up to them and rape her, so she decides to loose her virginity to a man of her choosing instead of by force. Of course the man she sets her sights on is Sam, and so begins a passionate dance with Bella playing the seductress. Sam has never been a virtuous soul, but neither is he a debaucher of innocents. At first he resists the temptation of her advances, but the lust burns hot between them, wearing down any sense of propriety he might have had. Their intimate interludes become increasingly intense, as they are pursued relentlessly through the desert by Tejala's men, and when the worst comes to pass, Sam will stop at nothing to get his Bella back and make her his forever.
In my opinion, Sam's Creed had a lot of potential, but ended up having enough plot holes to make swiss cheese. First, Bella has supposedly been on the run from the evil bad guy, Tejala, for six months by the time she met Sam. Considering that they were being attacked almost immediately and constantly for the short time span of the story, I cannot fathom how she could have survived, seemingly without any friends or allies, for six days much less six months. Also, as soon as Bella meets Sam, she decides that she wants to loose her virginity on her terms, because Tejala is likely on their heels and when he catches them will take her by force. If she had been on the run for six months, I just couldn't understand the sudden urgency for this and why she hadn't thought of it sooner, other than it being an excuse for the protagonists to have sex early and often. Finally, I can't for the life of me figure out why Sam left Bella alone with her mother whom they had presumed was supportive of Bella's arranged marriage with Tejala, and how anyone could have gotten past the Montoya ranch hands who were supposedly fiercely protective of Bella, without half of them being killed. Once again, this seemed like little more than a weak plot device to lead into an action-packed climax. These were just a few of the many things that weren't very well explained and didn't quite make sense to me. While this certainly wasn't the worst book I've ever read, I felt that it was plagued with a lack of substantial plot to hold together numerous scenes of sex and violence. In fact Sam and Bella carried the entire first ¾ of the book on their own with no secondary characters to even speak of, and their interactions during this part of the story basically consisted of riding through the desert, having sex and getting into a shoot-out then repeating the process for 300 pages.
Besides the weak plot, there were some other things which either bothered me about the story or I felt simply lacked credibility. First and foremost was the romance which was basically lust at first sight. I have said in numerous other reviews that love at first sight plots are not my favorites, but I can buy into them if the author gives me a strong emotional connection to the characters. Unfortunately, I found that to be lacking in Sam's Creed, as most of their scenes, especially early on, were basically fueled by lust. There were a few tender moments that I enjoyed, such as when Sam gave Bella a sponge-bath on their first night together, but overall I never really felt that all-important emotional connection between them and wasn't really sure when or why they fell in love. Their scenes together just never exhibited that swoon-worthy quality which is a must for me in romance. Another big thing for me was the love scenes. While I give Ms. McCarty kudos for thinking outside the box (not one of the numerous love scenes took place in a bed), all I could think of almost every time they made love was how at the very least that had to be uncomfortable and at worst possibly not even doable, particularly the acrobatic "relations" on horseback. Also, I couldn't help but think of how unpleasant certain said "relations" would be after long days on a hot, dusty trail with nary a bathtub or even a watering hole in sight. When I'm being dragged out of the heat of the moment by thoughts like that it is very distracting to my enjoyment of the overall story. In addition, I was a bit bothered by the violence level, which I felt, for the most part, was rather gratuitous. The body count was very high and some scenes were bloody with Sam being the one who was inflicting most of the damage. Even though it was always in self-defense or in defense of Bella, it just made him seem like a bloodthirsty killer to me, even though I'm sure that wasn't intentional. I just think the violence could have been toned down a little and still packed a good punch.
Sam and Bella were two basically good people with several positive traits, but I was never completely able to relate to either one of them. Sam was an extreme alpha who kept his heart locked up tight and never did fully release it in my opinion. He was just so hard and stubborn, lacking the consistent tenderness and vulnerability that I prefer in my heroes. I had been aware of Sam's heartbreaking boyhood experience surrounding his mother's death from reading Caine's Reckoning, but I never felt like the author added much to that backstory in this book. In fact, Sam didn't even open up enough to tell Bella about the incident and his fears and feelings surrounding it. Bella just intuited on her own that something from the past haunted him, and then the knowledge of it came from Tucker. Even that was done off the canvas, barely getting a passing mention which was disappointing to me. I thought Bella was admirable for her spunk and independence, and I liked that she was so willing to give of herself emotionally and physically to Sam. Still, I can't say that I'm a big fan of heroines, especially historical ones, who are quite so forward in their seductiveness and propositioning. Also, she could be just as hard and stubborn as Sam, which left them butting heads on one thing or another for the entire book. Although this wasn't as grating to my nerves as it has been in other books I've read, I'm also not a fan of the hero and heroine constantly vying for dominance in the relationship either. Overall, I thought that both characters would have needed a little more depth and exhibited a bit more vulnerability for me to truly understand them.
I really thought the book could have used better editing as well. There were many scenes that moved so slowly I found myself beginning to loose interest and just wanting it to get to the point. On the flip side there were other scenes that I found difficult to imagine or just plain confusing because they lacked enough detail. The dialog suffered from this same affliction, as I often found it problematic to discern who was speaking, especially if there were more than two people conversing at a time. This was also a problem I had with Caine's Reckoning, so I'm wondering if this is an issue with all of Ms. McCarty's books or just this series. In addition, there were a myriad of small continuity errors which I found rather irritating, such as someone sitting down but then suddenly they are standing again without any explanation or someone had their shirt off and then suddenly it is back on without explanation. The worst one was a poor dead prostitute whose name kept changing from Betty to Sally four different times over just a couple of pages. This one left me scratching my head in bewilderment as to how such a blatant mistake could have gotten past the proofreaders. Each of these were pretty small things in themselves, but when put together added up to one big distraction which caused the overall narrative to lack a smooth flow.
I realize that I have spent the better part of this review criticizing Sam's Creed, but even though I thought it could have been much better, I didn't exactly dislike it. In spite of the problems I had with the book, I still found Sam's Creed to be a mostly worthwhile read. I will also allow that I can see how it would appeal to some readers. Anyone who enjoys a strong alpha male hero, a spitfire heroine and/or lot's of steamy creative sex scenes should definitely check it out. However, unlike Caine's Reckoning, it's predecessor in the Hell's Eight series, I would not be likely to re-read it. I was rather disappointed that the only other member of Hell's Eight to appear in Sam's Creed was Tucker, but a few extra details being added to his character and the introduction of his presumed lady love have intrigued me enough to definitely continue the series when his book, Tucker's Claim, is released next spring. In the meantime, I will likely explore Sarah McCarty's backlist, as I know that she has the ability to write books that I can greatly enjoy even though I can't count Sam's Creed among them.
Note: This book contains explicit language, violence, and sexual situations, including light bondage, domination/submission, spanking and anal sex, which some readers may find offensive.
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