Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: Dark Stranger

Title: Dark Stranger
Author: Heather Graham
Genre: Historical Romance/1862
American Civil War
Series: Slater Brothers Trilogy/Book 1
Published: 1988/1995/2002

From the back cover ~

Kristin McCahy's dream of freedom and a life of dignity and self-sufficiency had vanished. All she had left to fight for was her ranch-but she had to give up her independence to do it. She needed
Cole Slater's help, but in return she offered the only thing she had-herself. No questions. No answers. Just a bargain.

Cole hadn't meant to stay and he hadn't meant to get close to her. A woman was the last thing in the world he needed. He had commitments of his own, and he intended to see them through. But love had a way of changing the rules.

I remember when I first got this book. I had joined the MIRA book club way back when and this was one of the first books I received. After reading Dark Stranger I just had to get the next two in the series. Initially Dark Stranger was published by Harlequin, then by MIRA, then reprinted by Harlequin in 2002. Three very different covers for the same story. The one I like the least is the MIRA(pink). The pink is too happy and certainly doesn't conjure images of war and strife. I like the original Harlequin, even with it's overly happy mother, father and baby picture. The most recent cover seems to be all about the author's name and marketability. The cover doesn't tell you much about the story.

On to the story... It's the time of the American Civil War and while Kristin McCahy isn't living in what would be considered the thick of the fighting she's still exposed to the brutality and the bloodshed. Living in Missouri during the Civil War, Kristin and her family learn to fear the Jayhawkers (Union sympathizers) and the Bushwhackers (Confederate sympathizers). These two groups of fighters are no more than vigilantes who go after anyone who stands against them. In the land of the Kansas/Missouri border, it's like there's another civil war going on with the McCahy family caught in the middle.

Kristin is 18 years old when she meets Cole. While that may seem young, at the time many women were married by 18, certainly in wartime they married younger. Kristin was a mature 18, she had to be. She had no time for frivolities and pursuits of pleasure. After her father was killed by the Bushwhackers, her brother joins the war, for the North. She is now in charge of the ranch and takes that responsibility very seriously. There is also her younger sister Shannon to look out for. And the freed slaves Delilah and Samson who are family to the McCahys. Add in the ranch hands and Kristin is overwhelmed by her responsibilities.

Then Zeke Moreau, one of William Quantrill's men, comes calling. Zeke and a bunch of his men come to take what they want and what Zeke wants is Kristin. It's at this point that the dark stranger appears, killing many of the men and saving Kristin from Zeke. But Zeke gets away so Kristin knows it's only a matter of time before he comes back for revenge. Kristin has to get the stranger to stay, to keep her and her family safe from the likes of Zeke Moreau. While Kristin may have had to grow up fast she's still naive when it comes to men. That naivety makes it's appearance in some amusing ways. Cole certainly found Kristin's shyness attractive and reminded him of how young she really was. I like how Kristin's youth was used as a strength instead of focusing on her lack of experience as a weakness. Cole's experiences in the war made him appreciate Kristin that much more.

Cole Slater was just passing through when he saw what was happening at the McCahy ranch. He has no plans to stay on after driving off the scumbag that is Monreau. He tells Kristin to leave the ranch and head somewhere safer, Missouri is no place for a couple of young women alone. Kristin refuses to leave her home and makes Cole and offer he tries to refuse but in the end stays while making some demands of his own.

With the war still going on Cole can't stay with Kristin indefinitely. He has to get back to the fighting so when it comes time to leave he gets word to his brothers Malachi and Jamie. They come to the McCahy ranch and are able to stay for a while. Cole also gets word to Quantrill that Kristin and her family are under his protection and are not to be touched by any of Quantrill's men. Quantrill tells Cole that he can't make any guarantees unless Cole marries Kristin. To say Cole isn't happy about this is an understatement. He has his own ghosts to fight, one of them being his deceased wife. Cole is one of those heroes that makes a quick impression with his charming of Delilah, his gentleness with Shannon and his respect for Samson. The way he treats Kristin is far different from how he treats everyone else. I think it was because he was attracted to her from the beginning and he doesn't want to be. He feels that by doing so he is betraying his deceased wife.

At first Kristin finds Cole abrasive, irritating and a bit scary. He also fascinates her with his manners and good looks. He's not what she was expecting and while his attitude about the war upsets her, he's fighting for the Confederacy and her brother fights for the Union, she still can't help caring and worrying about him when he's gone. I really liked the way these two broken souls came together. Once they did sleep together it didn't fix their problems or cure their distrust. They still had many obstacles to overcome not the least of which is a secret from Cole's past.

Dark Stranger is a fast read. There's a lot going on in this story that spans almost three years. The book comes in at just under 300 pages but it felt much longer, in a good way. :) Heather Graham loads the story with not only Kristin and Cole's romance but what it was like living during this tenuous time in US history. She also has a number of secondary characters that add even more depth to the story. Of course we know that Zeke will be back and there will be a dramatic showdown between Zeke and Cole but I found myself caught up in the day to day tests of faith and perseverance that each of these characters went through.

All in all I'm glad I choose this as a re-read and plan to re-read the next two books in the trilogy. The second book, Rides a Hero is Malachi's and I do remember ever since reading Dark Stranger I have loved the name Malachi. :) The third book is Jamie's, Apache Summer. Oddly, I don't remember much about it but I'm sure it will come back to me once I start reading it again.

Heather Graham, who also writes as Shannon Drake, has a new western coming out this November. Night of the Wolves is about.... Vampire Hunters in the old west! An old west paranormal - who'd have thought it. LOL I checked on Amazon and Harlequin's pages and can't find a synopsis. Hopefully one will be posted soon. Heather Graham and her huge back list can be found on her website.

Rating: A


  1. sounds very interesting, Leslie. Very different than what I usually read... hmmm, wonder if I can find it...

  2. nath ~ It could be considered a western. LOL I do have a feeling Shannon, the sister, might get on your nerves. :)

  3. I agree with Nath, this sounds very interesting. I don't get a chance to read Civil War stories very often and I do enjoy them. I enjoy reading an older book every once in a while too.

  4. Jill ~ it's weird because I used to love Heather Graham's historicals but could never get into her contemps. Graham also did another Civil War trilogy that was very good - One Wore Blue, One Wore Gray and And One Rode West.

  5. This sounds like such a great read, Leslie. I used to love Civil War sagas, but it's been a while.:)

    I'm still trying to get my hands on those old Graham vampire books. No luck. :(

  6. I don't think I've ever read Heather Graham. Sorry! But this one definitely sounds interesting, especially because of this: "...spans almost three years."

    Thanks for the review, Leslie.

  7. Oh, it's that Heather Graham?!? Her contemps are so-so. I don't read many Civil War period books... the only one I really read is North and South trilogy by John Jakes :D