Other Carla Kelly reviews can be found in the Archives.

Her Hesitant Heart
by Carla Kelly
(Harlequin Historical, $5.50, PG) ISBN 978-0373297351
Suzanna Hopkins left the East behind when she fled a powerful, abusive husband. In post-Civil War society, divorce is a scandal and the fact that she lost custody of her 11-year-old son means that Suzanna is looked upon as an unfit mother. Nearly penniless, she has taken a position as a teacher at Fort Laramie, where hopefully nobody will have heard of her.

Major Joseph Randolph, army surgeon at the fort, steps in to rescue Suzanna when she is a few dollars short of the final stagecoach fare. They form a tentative friendship. Joe is a widower who lost his beloved wife in an accident he couldn’t prevent, and he’s guarded. Yet there’s something about Suzanna that is intriguing and soothing. Suzanna doesn’t trust men and carries the emotional and physical scars of her previous marriage, including the partial loss of vision in one eye, but Joe’s kindness and humor are a balm to her spirit. When the women of the fort discover her past, Joe will again come to her rescue.

This is a sweet little romance, but readers looking for a red-hot couple should keep on looking. Suzanna is a timid mouse for most of the novel, and Joe’s easygoing nature means there isn’t a lot of conflict. They’re a nice, warm couple who deserve a happy ending, but that’s about it.

Carla Kelly is a historian and she’s an expert on the history and customs of Fort Laramie, so there is a lot of historical background to the story, and many, many details about Army life sprinkled throughout the book. For the most part, it works, but at times it felt out of place, like she was trying to shoehorn in just one more fact. Be prepared for a heavy dose of history with the romance.

What saves the book from tedium is the quality of the writing. As always, it’s stellar, and the conversations between Joe and Suzanna actually move the story along. For readers who have enjoyed Ms. Kelly’s previous books, Her Hesitant Heart will be a welcome treat.

--Cathy Sova

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