Abused by her drunken father and struggling for survival on the Boston waterfront as a tavern serving wench, Delia McQuaid longs for a better life, one in which she's a respectable lady. When she sees an advertisement in the newspaper for a man who is looking for a wife willing to travel to Maine to look out for his two children, Delia eagerly responds. She falls in love at first sight with the handsome doctor who placed the ad, but she soon learns that he did it for a friend in his small Maine settlement, not for himself. Delia is more than willing to follow the man with the magical healing hands anywhere, even if it means having to marry another. She hopes it won't come to that though, and that along their journey, he will come to realize he loves her as much as she loves him, especially after he sweetly makes love to her in the forest.
Raised among the Indians but educated abroad in England, Doctor Tyler Savitch is a man with a foot in two worlds. He's attracted to Delia's spunky spirit from the moment he first meets her, but he has no intention of falling in love or marrying the wench. Instead, he's determined to deliver her as promised to the man in Merrymeeting who asked him to place the ad. Still, Ty can't seem to resist the lovely Delia, who gets under his skin at every turn. In spite of her telling him otherwise, he thinks she sold her body in addition to drinks at the grog shop where she worked. Believing there'd be no harm in sampling her charms and that it might get her out of his system, Ty seduces and makes tender love to her along the trail. Even after discovering that she really was a virgin, he keeps his heart locked up tight, turning her over to the other man upon their arrival in the settlement. As Delia says her vows to someone else, Ty finally understands that what he's been feeling for her is far more than mere lust. If only he'd realized he was falling in love with her before it was too late...
I first read A Wild Yearning probably more than twenty years ago, so when I picked it up for a reread, I remembered very little about the story. I did seem to recall that I'd enjoyed it, and my reread of it proved that to be quite true. A Wild Yearning is an epic love story that spans about a year and a half from start to finish, but it never felt artificially drawn out or tedious. I love Penelope Williamson's writing style. The characters were very relatable and the plot was engaging. This is a dramatic story with lots of twists and turns that keep the hero and heroine apart for much of the book, yet unlike some other books I've read where this was the case, I always felt the love and emotional connection between them. In fact, the title is quite apt, as the author is very talented at bringing out that deep sense of yearning in both of them until they finally come together once and for all. The other thing Ms. Williamson is extremely good at is drawing the historical setting. I've always had an interest in the Colonial/Early American time period, yet it seems to be a somewhat rare setting for romances. This book not only incorporates this era, but is also very well-researched. The author really brought the setting to life with her vivid descriptions of life in a small settlement in Colonial Maine as well as the environmental details that truly made me feel like I'd been transported to another time and place. The main characters also spend time among the Abenaki Indians, which was equally as engaging. There was absolutely nothing about this book I would have changed, making it an incredibly enjoyable reread for me.
Delia is the focal point of the story and a very strong female protagonist. Not that we don't get Ty's or other characters' POVs, but I felt like the book was more about Delia's journey from a grog shop serving girl in Boston to the more respectable woman she longs to be. Ever since her mother died, her father has hit the bottle pretty hard, and he's a mean drunk. He often beats her and steals the money she earns at her job to support his habit. Delia wants nothing more than to escape this life, so when she sees Ty's advertisement for a wife, she thinks it may be the answer to her prayers. She falls in love at first sight with the dashing doctor, only to find out that he placed the ad for another man from the Maine settlement where he lives. Delia and Ty's romance is one fraught with heartache, passion, and danger, but through it all Delia is a trooper. When she first meets Ty, she's very rough around the edges. Everyone, including Ty, thinks she's a fallen woman, but in reality, she had enough pride and backbone to avoid prostituting herself to earn money, a fact which I admired. More than anything, she yearns to be a respectable lady. She doesn't really know the first thing about how to accomplish that, but she's a quick learner when opportunities present themselves. The thing I loved most about Delia is that she has a huge heart with lots of selfless love to give. Perhaps because of her background, she isn't judgmental of others. She tries to see the good in everyone, even when they aren't willing to give her the same chance. She's tough as nails, a real fighter, who always tries to make the best of difficult circumstances. Even when faced with marrying a man she doesn't love and someday possibly watching the man she does love marry someone else, Delia is up to the challenge, prepared to rejoice in his happiness if that time comes. That's why she's definitely earned a spot among my favorite romance heroines.
Ty is a stubborn, enigmatic alpha male with a lot of different sides to his personality. He was born into wealth and privilege, but when he was only six, his father was killed in an Indian raid, in which Ty and his mother were taken captive. As a result, he grew up among the Abenaki people with an Indian step-father he revered. He became one of them, but at the age of sixteen, his step-father insisted that he must return to his own people. Although Ty never got along with his grandfather, the man sent him to England where he was highly educated and became a doctor. He brought his knowledge back to the Colonies, where he lives in the small settlement of Merrymeeting, much to his grandfather's chagrin. I love Ty's idealistic nature and how he wants to help people and tries to stand up for the oppressed. From the moment he meets Delia, Ty is deeply attracted to her, but he has no intention of falling in love with her. After experiencing a great deal of loss in his life, he's very reluctant to love anyone. Ty's willingness to turn Delia over to marry another man after the intimacy they'd shared may be a bit hard for some readers to swallow. However, I wasn't overly perturbed by it, because it's obvious that he regrets that decision from the minute the wedding begins. He's jealous and protective, but doesn't realize that he's falling in love with her until much later when it's already too late. He has a hard time living with himself after that, but the deep abiding connection between him and Delia is still there, even as she's trying to make a life with someone else. When it seems like they can finally be together, Ty isn't the least bit shy about showing Delia just how passionately in love with her he is.
The secondary characters, of which there are many, are extremely well-drawn. I felt like I got to know each one in spite of some not being on the canvas for very long. The stand-outs include, Nat, the man who Ty brought Delia to marry. He's obviously only taking another wife as a matter of necessity. As a farmer, there's much work to be done on his homestead as well as two little girls for whom to care, but Nat still deeply loves his first wife and probably shouldn't have married again so soon after her death, regardless of the need. At his heart, he's a good man though. Nat's two daughters, Meg and Tildy, were perfectly rendered. Meg is still grieving her mother, and she's the rebellious one who doesn't want a step-mother. Tildy is sweet and inquisitive and seems to love everyone, including Delia. I was also quite taken with Caleb and Elizabeth, the preacher and his wife, who travel with Ty and Delia to Merrymeeting to start a church there. They have something of a secondary romance as they work through some difficulties in their marriage. Caleb is sweet and caring, obviously loving his wife to distraction. Elizabeth is very timid and reluctant to go to a remote wilderness settlement. I loved watching her grow and change, facing the challenges set before her with grace and dignity. Her friendship with the feisty Delia and seeing the passion between Delia and Ty really helped her to come into her own.
Overall, A Wild Yearning was an incredibly well-written and engaging story that I hated to see end when I turned the last page. It was a roller-coater ride I was all too happy to take with these characters. The love scenes were quite steamy and sensual for a book written in 1990, which was a plus for me, not just because I like my love scenes hot, but because they were imbued with a deep emotion and passion that I don't always find in my romance reading. I can totally see why this book won the Rita award. It's superb in every way. To the best of my recollection, A Wild Yearning is the only book I've read by Penelope Williamson, but this time around, it most certainly isn't going to be my last. I very much look forward to exploring her backlist soon.
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