When I first finished this book, I didn’t think I’d liked it. Well, that’s not exactly correct: I knew I’d adored the heroine, and I was terribly moved and desperately scared by the ending, but the hero took some time to mellow in my brain to the point where I felt I fully understood and appreciated him. I think the biggest obstacle to this book for many will be the degree of redemption that the hero requires, and the depth of selfishness from which he has to redeem himself.
Gabe Rossiter is a park ranger, with enormous understanding and respect for the land he patrols, but an absolute lack of respect and understanding of himself and most women. He’s intelligent, dedicated, and you see glimpses of noble behavior but early in the book, the reader gets a very frank examination of his character.
He’s a slut. A big old man whore like a rake in historical romance, only without the charm and heavily-layered sympathy. It takes awhile to unearth why Gabe is the way he is, and even then, the issues behind his behavior may not be enough for some readers to accept him as a hero.
But his struggle with behavior and morality are balanced on a huge swinging pendulum – you see him act so honorably one moment, like when he comes to the heroine’s rescue after another police officer way oversteps his boundaries, and then you see him act like a callous, heartless self-absorbed dickbag and wonder how it can be the same person.
Because of the callous heartless self-absorbed dickbag behavior, my biggest fear was that he would not ever be worthy of the heroine. She is amazing. She is struggling to find herself and discover her identity while being so heavily informed by her gender, her heritage, her profession, and her personal history.
Katherine “Kat” James is a Native American, and it’s not just dark hair, dark skin and a tendency to speak of the Great Spirit. Her cultural identity moves through her at every moment, and her beliefs and her values form a core of strength that sets her apart – she’s admirable, strong, intelligent and a talented investigative reporter for a Denver newspaper, but that core also isolates her.
Gabe is terribly attracted to Kat, and she’s very blunt that she’s not interested in casual premarital sex, and that she knows he is likely after exactly and only that. He dismisses her, tries to put her down, and she won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he hurt her. Once an investigation into the desecration of Native American lands leads to a murder, Kat and Gabe find themselves teamed up to try to solve the mystery while avoiding being the next target of the killer. Their close proximity means trouble. Gabe slowly learns to value Kat. Kat struggles with her tempting attraction to Gabe. Their relationship and slowly developing appreciation for one another rests on a very deep similarity of understanding and an absolutely opposite collection of values.
The major reason I had such a hard time grading this book is best summed up in two words: “Sweet muff.” Gabe is very blunt in his descriptions of how much he desires Kat, and at times his comments to her are so brusque and crude I’m amazed she didn’t run out the door screaming. It was like watching a porn star recite dialogue from “Down in the Rumpus Room” with an actress reciting “As You Like It.” It made no sense to me initially: Kat is a class act, and Gabe is so crude. I honestly worried that he’d never be worthy of her. Nearly 2/3 of the way through I wasn’t sure I’d ever warm up to him. I wanted to beat him senseless at times and wasn’t sure why Kat didn’t beat him down herself.
If you pick up this book and you wonder whether it’s worth it to read to the end – keep going. The villain is unexpected, the slow and scorching hot attraction between Kat and Gabe is never easily resolved, and the role of Native American culture and ritual is moving to the point that I took deep breaths and sighed as I read. The ending is chilling and powerful.The amazing final scenes stick with me even today – they’re haunting and scary and powerful and brought tears to my eyes. The finale reflects the beginning and underscores the feeling that without each other, Kat and Gabe would be hanging by a very thin support, alone and without the impetus to take the risk to climb higher. Because of each other, they do more than anyone, including themselves, expects, and achieve more personal growth and joy than they could have predicted. Both characters grow in measurable amounts, and their happy ending is beautiful, and so incredibly satisfying.