Heidi Betts' freshman romance is a historical novel set in Leavenworth,
Kansas, 1880. If you like ultra-alpha heroes and spunky heroines, and you
don't mind treading a well-worn path, plot-wise, this book may be right up
Rebecca, a seamstress, is barely making ends meet when Caleb Adams arrives
in Leavenworth with his mistress, Sabrina, in tow. Sabrina orders a fancy
gown from Rebecca, and when it's finished, Caleb refuses to pay what he
considers an exorbitant price for it. Rebecca hotfoots it to the Adams
Express office to demand payment in full. Caleb, who hadn't noticed this
mousy-looking woman before, is taken aback at the change in her appearance
when she's angry.
Soon he's fantasizing over Rebecca and trying to give his mistress money to
return to New York. Rebecca has her own fantasies about Caleb. When they
meet in person, however, they seem to infuriate each other. Caleb was
disillusioned in love as a young man and considers all women to be scheming
tramps. Can Rebecca possibly be different? Rebecca, raised in a
whorehouse, left at thirteen rather than fall into her neglectful mother's
profession. She trusts no man. So why is she so attracted to Caleb? What
if he knew the truth about her background?
When Rebecca storms to Caleb's hotel to demand payment for a second gown
ordered by Sabrina, she surprises Caleb in his bath, and in a moment of
incredible wishi-washiness, finds herself flat on her back, having sex with
this man she swears she despises. Caleb is stunned at her virginity, and
when he apologizes and tries to pay for the gown, Rebecca assumes he thinks
she's a whore.
And here is the crux of this book's problem. Caleb and Rebecca spend
virtually the entire book assuming the worst of each other, again and again
and again. He thinks she's a scheming tramp. She thinks he believes she's
a tramp and is just using her. Rebecca and Caleb are thrown together by
circumstance, and must make some sort of peace with each other. When
threats on Rebecca's life begin to crop up, they must join forces.
Characters either work for readers or they don't, and reactions are largely
personal. Both of these characters gave me problems. Rebecca falls into
bed with Caleb at virtually any given opportunity (she can't help
herself) and then is indignant when he calls her a tramp. (She also stomps
her feet when she's angry, which made her seem more like a five-year-old
than a grown woman.) Nevertheless, she has grit and is more than willing
to take responsibility for her actions, which I found admirable.
Caleb fares less well. His "all women are scheming bitches" routine grew
old after the first twenty pages. This is stock stuff, and it's worn pretty
thin. Besides, it made him seem like an overgrown, sulking adolescent.
How mature is it for a man to survive a disastrous relationship, then
decide women are awful, and then surround himself with greedy mistresses
just so he can hang onto his point? The third time he called Rebecca a
whore, I gave up on him in disgust. No amount of groveling was going to
redeem him, and I wanted nothing so much as for Rebecca to get away from
him. In the end, this was not a couple I had much faith in.
However, readers who like the
"cruel-alpha-hero-who-meets-a-good-woman-and-reforms" type of story might
well enjoy this story. (Take note, Diana Palmer fans.) The secondary
characters in the story fill out the plot well, and the author wisely makes
no attempt to turn this into a mystery. The villain is obvious from the
Cinnamon and Roses offers plenty of promise. With more mature
characters and a bit more originality in the plot, Heidi Betts will no
doubt end up on readers' keeper shelves. It will be interesting to see
what she comes up with next time.