Not too long ago, I saw mention of this story somewhere (perhaps at Dear Author or SmartBitches sales posts?), and decided to get it.
I’m so very glad I did!
Be aware that there is violence on the page, and a backstory that includes rape.
“Seduced” by Molly O’Keefe
A novella roughly a hundred and fifty pages long, “Seduced” is a historical western. More specifically, is a romance set in the late 1860s in the mountains, near Denver.
I was very impressed with how much emotional impact Ms O’Keefe managed to pack in such a limited word count. It helps that there are only five characters in the story, but still.
The blurb, from the author’s site:
Melody Hurst’s days as a Southern belle are over. Now she’s widowed and alone in the foothills of the Rockies, struggling to make a life in a dangerous world. She’s determined to secure a future by marrying – but love is out of the question.
Cole Baywood has turned bounty hunter after serving in the horrors of the Civil War, but the ghosts of the men and women he’s killed still haunt him. He’s drawn to the beautiful widow trying to seduce him, only the darkness in his soul forces him to reject her. Is it possible that Melody’s touch can heal the demons of his past? And how can he convince a woman who has lost so much to risk her heart?
It is widely accepted that life during and after the Civil War was particularly harsh for women without surviving male kin who could protect them and look after their rights. Melody, orphaned and feeling responsible for her sister Annie–whom many consider little less than disabled–marries a returning hometown soldier. The brother, in fact, of the man she had schemed to marry.
Melody hopes that the marriage, for all that it is one of convenience, will result in security for both her and Annie. Unfortunately the reality is much different. Soon, their land is just a memory as they follow Jimmy in a bizarre quest for vengeance,
And so they find themselves in a cabin in the woods with a wounded, perhaps dying, man. A few days later, Jimmy is dead, and now Annie and Melody are at the mercy of Jimmy’s would-be victim and his brother, Cole.
In a world devoid of hope and warmth and kindness, these four people struggle to come to terms with themselves, with the circumstances, and with each other. It is not an easy process.
As the story starts Melody is reaching breaking point.
Before the war, when she’d been vying for Christopher’s attention, she’d wanted romance. Passion, Stolen kisses. Rushed, panting caresses.
But all of that had been beaten and raped out of her.
Her dream was utterly unrecognizable to her now. She looked at those broken pieces and didn’t know what she wanted.
To eat until she was full? To have enough food so her sister’s stomach didn’t growl at night?
To wake up in the morning without fear?
Annie is really not doing much better. Willy-nilly, she’s been dragged all over the country by both sisters’ belief that neither can survive on her own. That the only way for either of them to survive is to stick together. That as long as they are together, eventually, things will be okay.
Being men, Cole and Steven lived a different war, if just as brutal and dehumanizing. They each carry terrible memories, of things done and things suffered through.Reunited after years apart, the brothers bring out the best of each other’s nature, as they grapple to find a viable solution to the Melody’s and Annie’s situation. Something far safer and stable than a hurried marriage.
Forced together by circumstances, everything these four people believe about themselves and each other is challenged. There are no easy answers and no magic cures for all the wounds in their souls.
As I said above, there is violence on the page, though I don’t find it exaggerated or glorified. The way it’s written, is just part of the reality of the time and place. Unsettled, barely civilized, far from the rule of law.
The story is told from Melody’s and Cole’s points of view. Her thoughts are particularly bleak, though Cole harbors his own share of despair. The characterizations are very strong. Ms O’Keefe conveys all four characters’ grief over losing everything they ever held dear–and not just to time, but to violence and destruction. Family, a way of life, faith in their fellow human beings. Worst of all, the loss of self, smashed to smithereens by a reality none of them could have imagined.
There is a strong sense of place and time, with enough detail about every day things, such as smoking meat or turning soil for a garden, to bring the reader into the rhythm of the period. A harsh, demanding, dangerous time.
Melody doesn’t want to hope, because hope hurts when it’s killed by reality. Cole doesn’t want to care, because everything and everyone you care for is taken away from you. Yet they hope, and they care, and they find in each other that bit of softness, that hint of kindness, that gives them strength to go on.
Despite its brevity and the relatively short time span it covers, as “Seduced” ends, I believe that Melody and Cole are on their way to make their relationship work, to make a good and happy life together.
“Seduced” gets a 7.75 out of 10.