Rebecca was born fatherless in a brothel in Kansas City and raised there by a mother who mostly resented her existence. At thirteen, when she overheard the madam saying that it was time for her to start working too, she escaped and stowed away on a stagecoach bound for Leavenworth. There she drew the attention of an elderly seamstress who took her in and finished raising her as an adopted daughter, teaching her everything she knew. When the lady passed away, she left her dressmaker's business to Rebecca, who only makes a meager living at her work, but she's at least proud of what she's doing. When the mistress of a wealthy local businessman comes in to have a dress made and her protector refuses to pay the full bill, Rebecca goes to his office in a fury. Although she's incensed by his arrogance, she can't deny that she also finds him attractive. He eventually acquiesces and even brings her more business making a wardrobe for his younger sister, but when he once again refuses to pay for another dress Rebecca makes for his mistress, she tracks him down at his hotel room. Eventually anger turns to passion between them and they make love, leading to an unexpected pregnancy.
When he visited Rebecca with his mistress, Caleb Adams found the little dressmaker too mousy for his taste, but the fiery little minx who shows up in his office demanding payment is someone entirely different. He can't help wondering how he could have missed her beauty, and he's intrigued by her feistiness. Caleb can't stop thinking about her and realizes just how bored he's become with his latest mistress. He breaks things off with the woman, sending her back to New York, with the intention of making Rebecca his mistress instead. But when he discovers that their dalliance has led to a pregnancy, he knows the only right thing to do is offer marriage. However, a bad past experience with another woman makes it nearly impossible for him to trust her. Not to mention, a few suspicious violent incidents that are being directed at his family leave Caleb worried for Rebecca's safety. Can Caleb ever learn to trust Rebecca and give her his heart or will the person behind the mayhem take her from him before that happens?
Cinnamon and Roses is the first book in Heidi Betts' Rose Trilogy, and it was also her very first published novel. As such it's a tad rough around the edges in places, but overall, it was a pretty good story for a debut effort. It's a historical western romance in which we have the wealthy son of the stagecoach line owner who is a know womanizer paired with a scrappy young woman who spent her early years growing up in the back room of a brothel. They must battle her insecurities, his distrust of women, her mercenary prostitute mother, and his jealous, crazed ex-mistress in order to find their HEA. But find it they do, in a moderately suspenseful fashion. Add in the hero's friendly, outgoing kid sister, his kind businessman father who just wants his children near him, and a bevy of townspeople, and you have the makings of a not-quite-perfect, but still decent read that held my attention throughout.
Rebecca spent her formative years in the brothel where her mother worked in Kansas City, but when the madam decided Rebecca was ready to start working herself when she turned thirteen, she ran away, stowing away on the back of a stagecoach that stopped in Leavenworth. There a kindly widow took her in and taught her everything she knew about sewing, so that when she passed away, the widow's seamstress business and her small house went to Rebecca. It's not exactly a comfortable living, but she gets by until the flighty, gaudy mistress of the town's most eligible bachelor comes to her for a new dress and the woman's protector refuses to pay her for it in full. Then she marches right into the stagecoach office in a fit of pique, demanding her money. Despite him trying to stiff her on the bill, she can't help being attracted to the infuriating man. They work things out and he gives her more business making a wardrobe for his younger sister who unexpectedly comes to town, but when he refuses to pay another one of his mistress's bills, Rebecca, this time, finds herself in his hotel room seeking payment. One thing leads to another, and although they're like oil and water at first, they end up making love (on more than one occasion), which leads to a surprise pregnancy and a hasty marriage. Overall, I liked Rebecca. She's a bit of a spitfire when she needs to be, not allowing Caleb or anyone else to walk all over her. But she also has a softer, more sensitive side. She's afraid at first to tell Caleb about her upbringing for fear that he'll reject her, and she also has a few insecurities that she needs to work out. But in general, I found her to be a good, fairly well-balanced heroine.
Upon hearing that his father was sick, Caleb came back to Leavenworth to help run the family business. Until then, he'd been living in New York with his mother, who is separated from his father because of her infidelities and her desire to live in high society instead of the primitive West. Caleb brought his mistress with him, but she's rapidly getting bored, which is why he allowed her to get a new dress. But when he receives the bill, he doesn't think it's a fair price and refuses to pay the full amount. When the feisty dressmaker comes into his office demanding her due, he can't help being attracted to both her beauty and her fiery nature, at which point he realizes his mistress just isn't doing it for him anymore and sends her packing. The woman isn't so easily deterred, though, and when he receives another bill from Rebecca for a second dress, he refuses to pay it at all, which brings her looking for him at the hotel. It's then that he realizes he's been wanting her for a while and can't resist giving in to the sparks that have been passing between them. He thinks to make her his new mistress, until she turns up pregnant. Then he knows the only way to make things right is to marry her, even though he thinks he'll never love her.
Caleb had a few jerk moments in the early chapters of the book, which were not endearing him to me at all and made me want to smack him upside the head. He has issues with trusting women, but there were times that I felt he was needlessly cruel. Also, we don't know until over halfway into the book exactly what's fueling his animosity, and even then, I felt that it wasn't quite bad enough to make him behave the way he had. IMHO, the author could have dug a bit deeper on this part of his characterization. Despite rubbing me the wrong way on more than one occasion, he does have his kinder moments and those do increase (as well as his lame-brained moments decreasing) as the story progressed, so in the end, he wasn't a bad hero. He just wasn't quite as good as I prefer my heroes to be.
There are a few notable secondary characters in Cinnamon and Roses. While we don't see a lot of Caleb's father, Holbrook, he seems like a very nice man who was done wrong by his wife and merely misses his children and wants to be near them. That's why he "engineered" his little health episode to get Caleb to come back to Leavenworth. Caleb's sister, Megan, is a spirited young lady, who got sick of New York and decided to make her way back to Kansas on her own, scaring everyone in the process. Despite only being sixteen, she's pretty mature for her age while still showing some of her youth. She becomes a good friend to Rebecca, and she also becomes the heroine of the second book of the Rose Trilogy, A Promise of Roses. I also liked Rebecca's Wednesday Group, a small group of the more well-off ladies in town who always come by on Wednesdays to have tea with Rebecca and order a little something to help her out and keep her in business. When she hears of Rebecca's advantageous marriage, her mother, Kate, comes looking to engage in a little blackmail. Then there's Sabrina, Caleb's mistress, who won't take no for an answer, turns mentally unstable, and who causes no end of trouble for the newlyweds, even to the point of attempted murder.
Cinnamon and Roses had a few minor missteps here and there that kept it from being a perfect read. To start with, I thought the various plot points could have been woven together a little more seamlessly. As is, it seemed like the characters were moving from one challenge or conflict to another until everything finally works out in the end, when more relationship development and getting-to-know you moments would have been appreciated. There were also some typos and awkward word choices that could have been smoothed out. And finally I detected a few anachronisms. A character pulls out a tissue, which wasn't invented until a few decades later. Then there's the use of the phrase "knocked up," which I thought sounded out of place, but after doing a bit of research, I decided to let slide as it was apparently used in American slang as early as the 1800s. These were the two that stood out the most and that stuck with me, but I think there were a few other more minor instances. All of these things were probably a product of Ms. Betts' greenness as a writer, so I'm willing to generally overlook them. Otherwise, I liked the story fairly well and other than Caleb's few jerkish moments, I liked the characters, too. So, overall, I'd call Cinnamon and Roses a win. It was my first read by Heidi Betts, and it was good enough that I'm looking forward to trying Megan's story at some point.
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