When a slave and bondsmen dealer arrives on the Blakewell’s river pier, Cassie meets him to purchase more help. Even though she hates the practice as much as her father, they both know that they cannot run the estate without the help. Caregiver that she is, she purchases a near-dead convict named Cole Braden because she can’t stand the thought of the dealer beating him to death. Even knowing that he was sentenced for being a “defiler of women” does not change her mind.
When he finally recovers, Alec insists he is not Cole Braden. Cassie allows him to write a letter to his brother-in-law in England and also has the local sheriff interview him. The decision is that until they hear from London, he must continue as he is. It doesn’t take long for Cassie and most of the rest of her household to see that this man’s actions do not fit with the description of a “defiler of women.” As her trust in him grows, so does the attraction. Since he is still known to the law and the neighbors as a convict, the attraction poses danger to both of them.
There are many sources of danger including the Crichtons, the owners of the neighboring estate. The father is a cruel, cold man who has mistreated his son Geoffrey since a childhood ailment left him near death and weak. Even though Geoffrey recovered with only a limp, his father treats him with disdain. Geoffrey has always cared for Cassie because she was nice to him when he was sick. She sees it as a friendship, but he wants to possess her. He has become a cruel man and does not like her reliance on the convict. Both of the Crichtons want the land that Cassie’s family owns. Geoffrey sees marrying Cassie as the way to get both the land and her. Another source of trouble is Alec’s younger brother, Phillip. Alec had taken Phillip to task over his profligate lifestyle after he used and left pregnant a sixteen-year-old. Phillip’s anger is a source of trouble.
The author skillfully details a number of secondary characters and includes a couple of romances as well. She shows the complex relationships that occur in the hierarchy of an estate with slaves and bondsmen and bondswomen and how it is different on the Blakewell estate as opposed to the Crichton estate. Several of the other neighbors are given some depth of character as is Alec’s sister and brother-in-law in England. I was impressed at how well I felt I knew the large number of characters involved.
Although I’m not an expert on this time period, the details given certainly agree with what I remember from history classes. The descriptions of everyday occurrences where detailed enough to seem very real. I don’t, however, want to give the impression that this is a tedious book. There is plenty of action to move the story along.
My only quibbles have to do with the motivation of Geoffrey and a little of Cassie’s attitude near the end. It was hard to understand how Geoffrey could have looked on Cassie’s kindness when they were young as the best part of his life and still grow up to be such an awful man. As much as he despised his father, it would have made more sense that he would become more like Cassie instead of like his father. As for Cassie, very near the end after she had been through hell and back, she suddenly tries to pull away from Alec one last time. This seemed a bit overdone. These are only minor concerns in an otherwise rousing and fulfilling tale.
Ms. Clare says in her acknowledgements that it took her seven years to write this book. I hope that her next one arrives much sooner!
--B. Kathy Leitle