Y’all will notice that I’m hitting four books at once in this post. That’ll be because I was in a mood for some Elizabeth Lowell, and since she hasn’t come out with any new suspense novels for a bit, I went back and slurped up a bunch of her older romance ebooks for iPhone reading goodness. First up was her “Only” quartet of historical Old West romances, and I’m doing these as a set since they’re all inter-related, covering the adventures of Willow Moran, her brothers, and associated badasses of both genders (men with guns and feisty women, and sometimes the other way around).
Only His: Let’s get this party started with Willow Moran, who’s heading west in search of her missing brother Matt, last heard from on his way to a gold mine. Willow gets her Asshole Repellent on by telling everybody that her brother is actually her “husband”, which is all very well and good until she hires gunfighter Caleb Black to escort her into the wild territory where her brother’s rumored to be. See, Caleb’s in a mood for vengeance, ’cause he thinks Matt “Reno” Moran is responsible for the seduction, impregnation, and eventual death of his sister. Y’all can see where this is going.
Villians Du Jour: Jed Slater, who thinks Willow is also full of Hotness, and who’s out for that there gold mine. Also, Comancheros and assorted henchmen.
Big Misunderstanding Du Jour: Caleb’s sure Willow’s lying about her so-called husband, which of course leads him to doubt her character. Except for the part where she’s totally hot, so cue the Oh Noez! I Have Seduced My Enemy’s Wife Who Clearly Isn’t His Wife Because Holy Crap! She’s a Virgin! Angst. And of course there’s the whole thing about Caleb’s sister.
Hotness Du Jour: Okay, I gotta admit, that whole analogy of foreplay as “trout fishing” was kinda hot, as well as being good for running gags with Willow and Caleb’s appearances in the other books.
Only You: This is actually Book 3, which I didn’t realize until I’d started it, but what the hell. In this episode we have card sharp Evelyn Starr Johnson, a.k.a. “Evening Star”, trying to gamble her way out of a jam–and pissing off the aforementioned Reno Moran, who’s convinced she’s set him up to get killed while she escapes scot-free. She talks him into teaming up with her to find a gold mine (not the one Willow and Caleb were after; there’s a lot of mine-hunting in these books though), and ol’ Reno’s fit to be tied since he can’t for the life of him figure out why he’s so hot for a “saloon girl”.
Villains Du Jour: Jericho Slater and assorted henchmen.
Big Misunderstanding Du Jour: The whole “saloon girl” thing, complete with Holy Crap! She’s a Virgin! angst after Reno and Eve get down with the hot and heavy. Complete with side helpings of Reno mouthing off about Eve being selfish even after she drags his ungrateful ass out of a collapsed mine. Being hit on the head is no excuse. Really, of all the heros in this quartet, I wanted to smack Reno the most.
Hotness Du Jour: Actually, little stands out to me in particular in this installment, mostly because I spent more time being annoyed at Reno and his “saloon girl” stupidity than I did at the attempted chemistry between him and Eve.
Only Mine: Swinging back to Book 2, Lady Jessica Charteris from England has saved herself from being forced into marriage with Obligatory Repellent British Guy–by tricking her way into marriage with Wolfe Lonetree, her Bestest Friend from her childhood, and never mind that he’s the half-Cheyenne bastard son of the local duke. Jessi and Wolfe have all the obligatory luvin’ going (and by luvin’ I mean smexxing), while Wolfe tries to yell her into getting an annulment and going home. And oh yes, there’s more action with Jericho Slater and his men shooting at the protagonists, while both of Willow’s brothers, Rafe and Reno, think Wolfe’s an absolute ass for trying to get rid of his hot little redheaded wife.
Villains Du Jour: The aforementioned Jericho Slater, although there’s less outright bad guy action in this book since the story’s rather more about Oh Noez! Jessi is a Fragile Flower Unsuited to the West!
Big Misunderstanding Du Jour: The aforementioned Oh Noez! Wolfe (and seriously, Wolfe Lonetree? How romance-novel-y a name can you get?) is right behind Reno in the line for people who deserve a smacking. Jessi works her ass off for him, and he gives her non-stop shit; in particular, his constant harping about how Willow is a much better “Western woman” is really, really annoying. He only backs off when he starts cluing in about the craptacular childhood she had and why she’s so paranoid about men and women getting it on.
Hotness Du Jour: Wolfe and Jessi have some better chemistry going on than Reno and Eve in my humble opinon, though for my money, the scene where Jessi was dancing with both Rafe and Reno was the hottest thing in the book. ‘Cause dancing.
Only Love: Last but not least we have Book Four, wherein Rafe “Whip” Moran, thusly nicknamed for his skill with a bullwhip (cue obligatory Indiana-Jones fangirly snicker), volunteers himself as the protector of the young ‘widow’ Shannon Conner Smith. She’s living all alone in a remote cabin, and she’s roused the interest of the predatory Culpepper brothers, who are very, very interested in the location of the gold claims worked by her alleged “husband”.
Villains Du Jour: The Culpeppers, who are fairly interchangeable in their general assholitude, and who are mostly notable for being the main villains for a related duology of novels that Lowell does later.
Big Misunderstanding Du Jour: Holy Crap! She’s a Virgin! (There’s a lot of that in these novels, too.) Only this time around, it’s with a side helping of But Wait, I Thought She Was a Widow! (‘Cause of course Shannon was lying about the man who was reputed to be her husband, in protective self-defense!)
Hotness Du Jour: The Indiana Jones fangirl in me has to be a sucker for Rafe wielding a whip, I must admit. Also, of the four heroes in this quartet, he’s the only one that takes the time to actually do some nice things for the girl he’s interested in: working for her, hunting for her, and playing music for her; his only real issue is a pathological fear of being tied into marriage, since he’s an inveterate wanderer. Yep, he’s made of the most amount of Win.
All in all not as enjoyable as Lowell’s later suspense work, and mostly I skimmed through all the smexxing, looking for the parts involving actual shootouts or fighting off wolves threatening the livestock or hunting for the hidden mines, that kind of thing. Given that Book Four was the best of the lot, it seemed like Lowell improved as she was going along. More on this in another post!