Outlaw Hunter (Harlequin Historical) - Carol Arens

An outlaw's wife…

 

With her home burned down, her outlaw husband believed dead and five children entrusted to her care, Melody Dawson must leave the ashes of her past behind to start afresh…

 

And an outlaw hunter…

 

Atoning for a youthful mistake, US marshal Reeve Prentis has made tracking down criminals his life's work. His dangerous job has always demanded a solitary existence, yet escorting Melody across the Wild West has Reeve longing for change, and a family of his own!

 

Good book. As a naive young girl, Melody fell for a man with a handsome face and smooth talk. He talked her into eloping with him, and only when it was too late did she discover that he was actually a member of a notorious outlaw family. The next several years were difficult as she suffered through abuse from him and the others. Now her husband has been reported to be dead, the outlaw ranch has been raided by US marshals, and the buildings burned. Melody is on her own with her two young sons and three other children. One of the marshals offers to escort her and the children back to her parents' home.

 

Reeve has been a marshal for many years. He considers it his duty and penance to track down criminals and capture them. As an eighteen year old boy he had made a mistake that resulted in his father's death and his mother being crippled. His work helps him support his mother and sisters and makes him feel like he's making a difference. The job is dangerous and he doesn't plan to have a family of his own.

 

As Reeve escorts Melody and her children back to her home town, a friendship develops between them. Melody is wary at first, her experiences with men making it difficult for her to trust. Reeve's kindness to her and the children quickly shows her that he's one of the good guys. Besides that kindness she can see that he is driven by something, and with gentle persuasion gets him to share his past with her. She has her own fears that she shares with him, and takes hope from his confidence that everything will turn out alright. As they travel, Reeve sees Melody change from the skittish victim to a young woman with hope for a better future. He's surprised by the attraction he feels for her, and his desire to get to know her better.

 

I loved seeing how the friendship they had turned into something more. Reeve found himself feeling very protective of Melody and the kids once they reached Cottonwood Grove. He knew he should just drop them off and continue on his way, but he couldn't bring himself to abandon them. It was sweet to see how he cared for the children and being around them made him realize what he was missing. He started to wonder if it was possible to make a change in his life. But he had spent so long looking at what he does as the only way to make amends that he wasn't sure if it was possible for him to change. Melody's feelings for Reeve were also changing, but she wasn't sure if she could trust them. She was afraid that it was only gratitude, or even the same sort of attraction that had gotten her into trouble before. I liked seeing that they agreed to take the time to make sure it was real before moving forward.

 

Things were really looking good for them, but there were forces at work to tear them apart. Melody has a problem with her father's new wife and her determination to keep Melody and her father apart. Melody is equally determined to get her father free from the woman's influence. Reeve still has some outlaws he's obligated to track down, and then he finds out that his mother and sisters are in trouble. This keeps him away from Melody for an extended period. I loved seeing him with his family, and how they try to show him that he deserves to be happy too. I wasn't surprised by the solution that he came up with to solve their problem, and loved seeing how it worked out. Meanwhile, I enjoyed seeing Melody settle in to her new life and start to regain her old confidence. She never really lost faith in the feelings she and Reeve shared, though she worried about his extended absence.

 

I loved their reunion and the happiness that radiated from them both. But Melody's past comes roaring back and throws their plans into disarray. I loved seeing that, instead of sending her into a cowering state of fear, it brought out a new strength in her. I really liked how she had just about rescued herself before Reeve found her. I also liked the ingenuity of the boy Joe, and his efforts to protect Melody's sons. The ending was quite satisfying, and I liked Reeve's compromise on the work he loves and having the family life he craves.