Katie Russell heads west to Nebraska with a husband she was forced to marry by a father who mistreated her and no longer wanted her around. She's heard stories of the savage Indians, but isn't sure that they could possibly be any worse than her cruel husband who beats and rapes her on a regular basis. When a small band of Indians ride down on their wagon as they near their land, teasing and taunting them, Katie is almost more intrigued than afraid. Their leader is a handsome brave who seems to see more of her than any other man has, so when they meet him and his friends again later at the fort, she begins to develop an attraction. Life on the endless prairie far from civilization or even any other white people, becomes a daily exercise in drudgery punctuated only by her husband's abuse. So when Katie realizes that her Indian warrior is watching out for her and he saves her life, she cannot stop the yearnings of her heart.
Tohave is a young warrior who remembers when the Indian tribes were strong and powerful. He misses the days when they could hunt buffalo and make war against their enemies, but now they must live on reservations, simply waiting for government handouts. Bored and restless, he and his friends often wander away from the reservation to visit the few settlers who welcome them and to tease those who don't, but they never mean any harm. It was on one of these occasions that he met the flame-haired beauty called Katie Russell. He knows that as a white woman, she is forbidden to him, but he can't stop himself from keeping watch over her. Tohave knows that Katie's husband beats her, so he tries to help her as much as he can. As they spend more time together, getting to know one another, a love like no other begins to develop between them. In his heart, Katie is already his wife no matter what the white man's law says, so they make plans to run away together as soon as the first snow falls. Though forces beyond their control may keep them from realizing that dream, theirs is a love that is strong enough to stand up to the test of time and distance, always believing that some way, they will eventually be together.
Some old-school romances from decades ago don't really do much for me, because of cruel heroes or other elements that I don't care for. But others, like Prairie Embrace, make me long for the romances of yesteryear, when it was a somewhat simpler time and these stories were written in a different style. First, most publishers wouldn't touch a romance of this length (475 pages) these days, but often having more space to write a story like this can really help to develop it much better. Another thing is that this is an epic romance that spans two and a half years from the time the hero and heroine meet to the time they finally get their HEA ending. No one I can think of really writes like this anymore, which is a shame in this age of romance insta-love. IMHO, taking more time to allow the romance and passion to simmer made the ending of this story all the more sweet. Everything they had to go through to be together, even though one of the things that entailed was a lengthy separation, really helped to solidify their love for one another in my mind. They just never gave up, and that's one of the big things I feel love is all about. So while the older vibe of the story might not work well for some readers, I personally thoroughly enjoyed it and would dearly love to read more romances just like it.
I would say that the heroine's journey is one of the primary focuses of Prairie Embrace. In her short nineteen years, Katie has been through hell. Her mother died when she was young, and her father and brothers taunted and abused her, treating her like nothing more than a slave. Then her father got tired of providing for her and forced her to marry his friend who was just like him, including being more than twice her age. Her husband beats and verbally abuses her, and she finds no joy or pleasure in their marriage bed, likening it to essentially being raped repeatedly. Her husband's dream is to own a farm in Nebraska, so they make the hard journey west, where Katie's existence on their land, which is two days ride from the nearest fort, becomes a bleak and lonely one, living in a dugout home with no one for company except a man who treats her abominably. Into that life comes Tohave, a Native American brave, who likes to tease the settlers. At first Katie, who has never known an Indian before, is a little afraid of him, but she quickly warms up to him, when she realizes he means them no harm. Tohave starts to visit Katie when her husband leaves her all alone to go to the fort or to chop wood in a forest that's a good distance away, and she often senses his presence even when she can't see him. Soon their friendship grows into love and passion, with Katie experiencing the first true love of her young life.
I love that Katie comes to trust and love Tohave despite them being so different and it being a forbidden love in more ways than one. Given her background and how poorly her husband and father treated her, she easily could have shut him out and refused to trust any man at all, but her heart was open when he came into her life. Through his love she learned that not all men are monsters and his love gave her strength to sustain her through the hard times and even to eventually stand up to her husband. Some readers may not like the fact that Katie stays with her abusive husband for so long and even sometimes feels like she's the one who's failed in their relationship, but I understood that she was a classic abuse victim and was also simply a product of her upbringing and the era in which she lived, where it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to leave her husband. I also loved that she never quite fully gave up on Tohave even after she was told he was dead. It was like she still sensed his spirit and couldn't let go until she had some kind of proof. And it was in part, because she hung on that they were able to eventually reunite. While Katie might not be the kick-butt heroine that is often seen in more modern romances, she has a quiet, understated strength of spirit that can be easy to miss if one isn't looking deeply enough, and I very much liked that about her. Overall, she's a sweet girl who I related to quite well and think that she definitely found the perfect mate in Tohave.
Tohave is an amazing hero, and I loved him to pieces. He's one of the young warriors who's half Sioux and half Cheyenne. He's old enough to remember the Battle of Wounded Knee and the heyday of the Indians, but he's still young enough to be restless and discontent with staying on the reservation. With their buffalo herds depleted and them being expected to live off government supplies, there's little for the young men to do, so Tohave and his friends often play pranks on the white settlers. He met Katie when they rode down on their wagon as she and her husband were approaching their new homestead, making them think they were going to attack, but only showing a little intimidation. From the moment Tohave caught sight of Katie, he was smitten and couldn't help following them at a distance, then keeping watch over her once they arrived and started setting up their new home. When Tohave realizes her husband beats and mistreats her, he sorely wants to kill him and steal her away, but he's wise enough to know that it would only bring trouble upon himself and his tribe, so he bides his time. Once he and Katie become more deeply involved, though, he begins to make plans to spirit her away to Canada, where they can hide in the wilderness, but the unexpected happens and he's unable to do what he wants.
Much like with Katie, it would have been easy for Tohave to distrust Katie. His mother was raped and murdered by white men, so he doesn't trust them easily, but he's smart enough to recognize that not all whites are bad. He and his friends mainly only tease the settlers who are already afraid of them, while they tend to be friendly with those who are friendly back. He senses from the moment they meet that Katie isn't with her husband by choice, and his heart aches for her when he finds out just how badly her husband treats her. He may be a strong warrior, but when he's with Katie, he's kind and gentle, treating her with the utmost respect and tenderness. He knows she's been through hell already and he doesn't want to add to that. Instead he wants to heal her wounds, both physically and emotionally. He saves her life on more than one occasion when her husband wouldn't have cared if she died. Tohave is still a man who has his pride, though, so when fate deals him a cruel blow, he stays away from her, not wanting her to see him as less than a man. But he never, ever stops thinking about her and wishing that things could be different. She's the inspiration that keeps him alive through all the hardships.
Tohave and Katie share a relationship that is sweet and tender, everything that she doesn't have with her husband. I will mention for readers who can't abide cheating of any kind in romance, that they do technically cheat on Katie's husband, but there are so many extenuating circumstances, not the least of which is Katie being forced into the marriage and the way her husband treats her, that I couldn't muster one iota of outrage over that. It's mainly only the white man's unjust laws that keep Katie in her loveless marriage. What Tohave and Katie share is beauty personified, a love that persists despite the most difficult hardships. Their emotional connection is deep and heartfelt, even across time and distance. The fact that they are separated a little over halfway through the story and aren't reunited until the very end would normally be a detractor for me, but in this case it wasn't. Somehow the author kept their connection alive despite the time and distance that passes between them. I never for a minute doubted that they still loved one another. It helps, too, that it was outside forces keeping them apart, rather than their own stubbornness or stupidity, which is often the case in romances. These two were clearly made for each other and their love for one another never would have died no matter what the outcome was.
There are several key secondary players who keep the story moving along. First, Katie's husband, Ezra, is a detestable man, who doesn't have an ounce of compassion in him. I thoroughly hated him every time he hurt Katie, but I still have to appreciate that the author gave him just enough of a backstory to make him seem slightly human and make me understand why he is the way he is. McBain, the original commander at the nearest fort, as well as his lieutenant, Will Rogers, are genuinely good men, who see that relations between the whites and Indians are a two-way street. They both always encourage the white settlers to simply be friendly with the Indians, even though their words often fall on deaf ears. They also both see what Katie's husband is doing to her and are sympathetic to her plight even though there's little they can do to help her from a legal standpoint. Late in the story, Will also courts Katie and could have kept her from Tohave but didn't. This made him a wonderful man as far as I'm concerned, and it might have been nice if he'd gotten a story of his own, although that's unlikely this long after the fact. Katie makes friends with two other settler couples, although she rarely gets to see them. Tohave has his Indian friends as well who ride with him and give him advice. There is also an Indian woman named Rosebud who is older than Tohave, widowed and barren. In white man speak, she's basically his mistress. He provides her with food and protection, while she acts as his female companion, providing for his sexual needs, and later she nurses him back to health, which is a long journey. Somehow the author managed to write her in a way that made me like her rather than be jealous of her for Katie's sake. Rosebud is a good person who cares for Tohave and bears genuine affection for him, even though theirs isn't a love-match, and Tohave is never with her when he's with Katie, which was a plus. She also looks out for and greatly helps Katie on one occasion.
As if you couldn't tell, I really loved Prairie Embrace. It's everything I look for in a romance: sweetness, tenderness, a deep emotional connection between the hero and heroine as well as between them and me as the reader, awesome characters who are easy for me to relate to, and a beautiful, romantic story. It was a little torturous having Tohave and Katie separated for so long, but like I said, Roseanne Bittner really knows how to keep me turning the pages. I just had to find out how they would finally get together when the odds seemed to be stacked against them. I also have to commend her on her historical research. I learned a few things about Native American history as she intertwined Tohave and Katie's love story with events that were actually occurring on the American frontier in the late 1800s. The racism and xenophobia that the Native Americans faced within the story seemed all to real as well. So kudos for her attention to real-life history. Overall, Prairie Embrace was a near-perfect read for me that will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come. It was my first read by Roseanne Bittner, but it definitely won't be my last. I look forward to checking out some of the other titles on her backlist soon.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook