Her Montana Man, by Cheryl St John

4 Dec

Her Montana Man, by Cheryl St John

Released by Harlequin’s Historical Western line in December 2008, Her Montana Man is Ms St John’s voice at her best, another one of those novels where you start reading thinking, “a couple of chapters and I’ll turn the light off” then you blink back into reality sometime in the wee hours of the morning.

Set in 1885, it tells the story of two wonderful characters who find themselves trapped by circumstances present and past. While there were some clichés in the plot, and a couple of standard ancillary characters, Jonas and Eliza Jane are just fantastic people who leapt off the page and grabbed me, not letting go until they had told me the full story.

Driven by duty and desire…

Protecting people runs through Jonas Black’s blood, and Eliza Jane Sutherland is one woman who needs his strong arms around her.

A rugged Montana man, Jonas will guard Eliza from her vile brother-in-law as fiercely as he guards his own heart. But though he can fight her enemies, he can’t fight the attraction between them.

Soon Jonas is sure they have a future together—only Eliza hides secrets that could change everything…

The novel begins with Jonas confronting a scumbag who is trying to intimidate one of Jonas’ female employees. Through the fight that ensues, we are shown Jonas’ integrity, his generosity, his protectiveness for those weaker than he is, and his bewildering, schoolboy-worthy crush on one Eliza Jane.

If all we had from there on to judge Jonas was this scene, we would be right to suspect him of being just slightly too good. Deftly, Ms St John shows the reader why Jonas became the man he is, being impotent witness to his mother’s murder as a young child, as well as how he does it, by leaving town as a young lad, since he is unable to face the presence of the father who had let both him and his mother down.

Even more interesting is to see Jonas, as an adult, continuing to deal with his memories of that night, with his resentment towards his father, all while acknowledging just how much that has made him the man he is.
That he is also successful enough as a business man is icing on the characterization cake, but definitely not what makes Jonas who he is. I really enjoyed seeing him continue growing from a good man to a better one.

Having him paired with a heroine worthy of him was just great.

Eliza Jane is the daughter of the late owner of the brickyard—one of the biggest businesses in town. Even though she has lived there all of her life, she spends much of her time in the family house, first taking care of her ailing father and then of her sister Jenny Lee, who has a weak heart, and of Tyler, her nephew. Soon enough we realize that things are not as they seem, not just regarding her sister’s and brother-in-law’s relationship, but about Tyler.

Eliza Jane has known for a while that, once Jenny Lee dies—and it’s very clearly a matter of how soon—she has to take Tyler and run, or forever be subject to blackmail at the hands of the dastardly Royce Dunlap, s.o.b. par excellence. And when Jenny Lee indeed dies, there would seem that nothing can stop Royce’s almost sadistic manipulation of Eliza through Tyler.

In all honesty, the first two or three scenes with her were a bit heavy on the info dumping, setting the domestic conflict as well as planting the roots of Eliza’s character further on—i.e., her father’s attitude towards both sisters, his reaction to her pregnancy, etc. And then, here we are, at Jenny Lee’s funeral, and Eliza suddenly has had enough. Thinking on her feet, fueled by anger and fear, and the overriding need to protect this child of her body and her heart, she foils Royce and buys some time—time to earn some money, time to come up with some way to escape.

I fell for Eliza during that scene, hard. It wasn’t melodramatic, there weren’t any histrionics, but there was such strength of purpose and such cleverness in her actions! And I continued falling during her interactions with both Tyler and Jonas for most of the novel. Even the few times where I wanted to shake her a bit… erm, when I didn’t agree with her decisions, she was completely three-dimensional.

I am one of those readers who are usually leery of children playing a prominent part in novels because, right or wrong, I rarely feel that writers capture the purported ages well. In this case, I believe Ms St John did it, and well, but more, she doesn’t abuse the character. Yes, he is the motivation behind Eliza’s actions, and the lever for Royce’s blackmail, but he’s not excessively precious or precocious, and even during his mother’s funeral, both his presence (screen time) and behaviour are consistent with a young boy under the circumstances.

My only quibbles are the villain, who is slightly too evil, no redeeming anything about him at all, and a couple of—to me—unnecessary plot twists, particularly near the end. However, Jonas and Eliza are such wonderful characters that I was able to overlook most of those annoyances.

Her Montana Man is an 8 out of 10.

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