Vera is searching for book she first encountered on vacation many years ago:
On to business. Sadly, I didn't read a lot of romance novels when I was a kid. I still don't, in fact; in my moments of weakness I find there's a lot of, erm, well-written fanfiction to see me through (holla, “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy. I read ALL of you back when you were still archived at pemberley.com…). Anyway, this is a long way of saying I had absolutely no idea what I was up against when I came across a mystifying, mysterious, and ultimately deeply engrossing romance paperback in the ski village condo we'd rented for the week. The cover looked like a blend of Gone with the Wind the Eighties–but that is still true for quite a few novels today, so that may not be helpful.
The novel was something vaguely Western/Gold Rush. There may have been a long family history and a series of subsequent (or prior) books; certainly there was a pretty involved family tree at the front or back of it. The main character was this awesome, ass-kicking, so-independent-you-could-cut-bread-on-it femme of the old type. The kind of woman who went West as a mining boom prostitute and then ended up as a successful businesswoman, opening a dance hall that eventually became a respectable salon? And then, finally, in this weird but absurdly sexy compromise of interests (which = also succumbing finally to deep and abiding companionship), marrying her dark, silent business partner? I think they called him the Rector or something like that, because he always wore black… And then at the end of this book, there's this bit about how the two of them grow old together but then he dies, and eventually she has a spunky, toast of the town granddaughter who has NO CLUE how, erm, colorful her granny's history has been. And the final image is of this amazing matriarch, ruthless, mysterious, enigmatic to the end. I'm not sure it could be termed a bodice ripper proper, because there (at least to my inept searching) just wasn't THAT much bodice ripping going on. (I was comparing to, for instance, Anne McCaffrey-style dragon sex, which is pretty much ubiquitous in certain of her books.) But definitely hot, and, I guess, “billowy.” Yes, that's the word that comes to mind. “Billowy” actually makes a lot of sense, since the other thing I was reading a lot of at the time was Dickens, which is pretty much the anti-Billow.
Needless to say, I did not get to finish the book during my time there. (Reading is hard when you have to get up early in the morning to go drag yourself outdoors with your parents. Also when they have banned you from reading.) BUT I WANT TO NOW. It's been, oh, ten years? Eleven? Suddenly this has turned up again in my memory, inspired by a creeping suspicion I acquired during a historical-figure Wikipedia binge that highlighted Belinda Mulrooney, who reminded me tremendously of this character. I've spent hours tonight trying to figure it out on my own, to no avail… Please, please help?
Do you recognize this book?