Eden Mallory has never forgotten the handsome stranger who saved her from an outlaw’s attack when she was 18 years old and whose wounds she tended. The story begins eight years later when Eden arrives at her Aunt Claudia’s store in Kentucky. Eden, daughter of a medicine show man, is fleeing from scandal and doubts about her own healing abilities.
Claudia’s handyman is none other than the town doctor, Michael Jones. Michael’s inability to save his beloved brother from consumption has left him skeptical of his worth as a healer as well. This is not the only thing Michael and Eden have in common though; they are each other’s fantasy from that chance encounter eight years earlier.
Michael immediately recognizes his “autumn-haired angel”, although I never figured out how he did so. It takes Eden a bit longer to recognize Michael, and when she does she realizes he’s not the dream man she’s always thought him to be. Michael’s self-doubt has made him bitter, and a secret debilitating illness makes him push away anyone who would love him.
I found it difficult to get into the main story due to the many distracting subplots that were introduced. In general, this isn't necessarily a problem but the subplots in Always Her Hero were either poorly developed or very obviously placed to provide a required plot device.
Bonnie, the widow who has her sights set on Michael, has a subplot that was so deliberate it was jarring and did not work as believable conflict. Then there was the whole bit about Michael's sister Sera and her visions. DeWolfe never goes beyond a surface treatment of the ability, which had the potential for being interesting; I got the distinct feeling it’s being reserved for a possible sequel. The rest of the subplots faded in and out of the book aimlessly until they were all neatly resolved at the end of the book. While deWolfe writes well, it seemed as if she couldn't decide whose story she wanted to tell, so she told them all.
I did like the main characters of Michael and Eden. Michael is well portrayed as a man who has lost faith is his ability after watching a loved one die. His bitterness is not overdone in the way of a brooding hero, and his hesitation at intimacy is fully believable. Eden, despite an occasionally annoying lack of confidence, is just stubborn enough to be strong, yet never foolish.
Unfortunately, the secondary characters are little more than a parade of romance novel clichés. There is the crotchety old woman who smokes a pipe and wields a shotgun, the spunky sister/best friend who plays matchmaker, the bitchy widow who competes for the hero and even the obligatory precocious child. Most of these characters are developed only far enough to perform their plot advancing duty. For example, when Reverend Prescott was first introduced, I thought he'd be a central character. He turns out to be little more than a convenient witness, then fades into oblivion. It was disappointing because the author did such a good job creating him that I wanted to know more about him.
The love scenes showed promise, but were often buried in significantly purple prose. One of Eden’s fantasies goes something like this “Then he would lay her down beneath the flaming arc of heaven, and the night would shatter with her innocence, an explosion of ecstasy, light and sound.” DeWolfe does, however, for create a plausible reason for the virginal Eden’s easy acceptance of a physical relationship.
Always Her Hero is not a bad book, but it never rose above the usual romance plots and characters to make it truly memorable.