Loree Lough is an excellent writer and there was much to like about Maverik Heart, but it wasn’t Levee’s and Dan’s love story that most held my attention.Â I found the stories of the secondary characters in this book much more compelling and entertaining.Â Dan and Levee took far too long to get together and beyond their first few meetings I found their “romance” highly unromantic and spark-less.
Levee was an interesting character and well written.Â I found myself agreeing with Dan that he didn’t really deserve her.Â I truly don’t know what Levee saw in Dan besides his masculine beauty, although I am quite aware of why Dan was taken with Levee.Â Another complaint I have — and not a small one — the couple never exchanges, “I love yous.”Â Levee did say she loved the house Dan built for her.Â Dan did say he wanted Levee.Â That isn’t the same.Â To me a romance novel totally falls flat with out exchanged I love yous.
If you are already a Loree Lough fan you’ll likely find this isn’t one of your favorite Lough books.Â If you aren’t already a Loree Lough fan, please don’t let this be the first book you read of hers.Â She is an outstanding storyteller who has won many well-deserved awards.Â I truly hate having to write a less than sparkling review for Maverick Heart since I usually love Loree Lough books.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Whitaker House (January 4, 2011)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling of Whitaker House for sending me a review copy.***
Loree Lough is a well-known and beloved Christian romance writer who has published over 75 books, 65 short stories, and hundreds of magazine, newspaper, and Internet articles. A tireless advocate of the inspirational fiction genre, sheâ€™s recognized as a leader in the field and is a sought-after speaker at writing seminars and workshops. Loree is a regular contributor to a variety of publications for writers, a columnist for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and keeps in touch with readers through her website and blog, The Lough Down, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Shoutlife.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 4, 2011)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Somewhere along the San Antonio Road
â€œYou behave as though youâ€™re the first woman to have a miscarriage!â€ Liam scolded Levee. â€œPull yourself together. Canâ€™t you see youâ€™re making everyone miserable?â€
That had been three days ago, but the memory of it still stung like the gritty, windblown Texas dust. Levee huddled in a corner of the stagecoach and prayed that her husband wouldnâ€™t notice her tears. Sheâ€™d never been the type to wallow in self-pity, but was it too much to ask her husband to show some warmth and compassion? As a doctor, he should have been able to acknowledge that her reaction to losing the baby was perfectly normal.
Frowning, she tucked her lace-trimmed handkerchief back into her purseâ€”a mistake, for Liam saw and correctly guessed that sheâ€™d been crying. Again.
â€œYouâ€™ll never get over it if you donâ€™t at least try to put it out of your mind,â€ he grumbled.
The impatience and disappointment in his voice hurt almost as much as his earlier reprimand, and Levee heaved a sigh. Oh, if only she could put it out of her mind!
Maybe he had a point. Maybe thirty-four days of grieving her lost baby had been enough. As one of the first women in the country to earn a nursing degree, Levee understood the mental and physical aftereffects of a miscarriage. But could melancholia explain why she felt her husband was too preoccupied about opening his new clinic in Mexico to mourn the loss of yet another baby?
Like it or not, they would arrive in Mexico in a matter of days. Chihuahua, of all places, where she didnâ€™t know a soul, and the people spoke a language she didnâ€™t understand. Where, according to Boston newspapers, outlaw gangs roamed theâ€”
â€œHold on to your hats, folks!â€ the driver bellowed. â€œBandits, ridinâ€™ in hard and fast!â€
Amid the thunder of horsesâ€™ hooves and the report of gunfire, their fellow passenger, whoâ€™d introduced himself only as Mack, calmly unholstered two six-shooters. â€œYou got a gun, doc?â€ he asked Liam as he peeked out through the leather window covering.
Liam clutched his black medical bag tight to his chest. â€œYes, butâ€”â€
â€œThen youâ€™d best get â€™er loaded and cocked. Thereâ€™re three of them and five of us. We might just have us a fightinâ€™ chanceâ€â€”he fixed his brown eyes on Leveeâ€”â€œif you can shoot.â€
Just as she opened her mouth to confess that sheâ€™d never so much as held a gun, one of the stagecoach drivers cut loose a bloodcurdling scream. Quick as a blink, his body hurtled past the window and hit the ground with a sickening thump.
With a trembling hand, Levee clutched her throat, and Mack groaned. â€œMake that four of us.â€ He spun the chamber of the second revolver and, after pulling back the hammer with a click, wrapped the fingers of Leveeâ€™s other trembling hand around the grip. â€œJust aim and pull the trigger, and keep on doing that till youâ€™re out of bullets.â€
â€œB-but how will I know when Iâ€™m out ofâ€”â€
â€œAre you two God-fearinâ€™ Christians?â€
She heard Liamâ€™s dry swallow. â€œI donâ€™t know what that has to do with anything,â€ he muttered.
Mack glared at him. â€œIf you want to get out of this mess alive, youâ€™d best start prayinâ€™. Pray like youâ€™ve never prayedâ€”â€
His warning was cut short by male voices shouting and terrified horses trumpeting. Gears and brakes screeched as the coach came to a jolting halt.
Then, a deadly hush rode in on a cloud of dust.
The door nearest Levee flew open with a bang. â€œThrow them guns into the dirt,â€ growled a masked gunman.
When Liam slid his revolver back into his doctorâ€™s bag, Mack gave a slight nod, then tossed his own pistol out the door. Taking his other gun back from Levee, he uncocked it and flung it to the ground, too.
The bandit raised his rifle barrel higher. â€œGit on outta there, one at a time, and donâ€™t try no funny business, neither.â€
Levee climbed down first, followed by Liam. So much for Mack coming up with a last-minute scheme to save us, she thought as he joined them in the shade of the coach.
A few yards away, two more bandits sat in their saddles. The smooth baritone and well-enunciated syllables of the tallest didnâ€™t fit the rudeness of his words: â€œGather anything of value you find on their person or in their valises,â€ he told the rifleman. And then, using his chin as a pointer, he said to the man to his left, â€œYou. Fetch the money.â€
Their immediate obedience made it clear that this man was one to be reckoned with. Leveeâ€™s heart beat harder as his cohorts carried out his orders, but it wasnâ€™t until the strongbox hit the ground with a loud clang that she noticed the other stagecoach driver, hanging like a half-empty flour sack over the armrest of his seat. She could almost hear Mack thinking, And now weâ€™re down to three. Their only hope was the tiny pistol hidden in Liamâ€™s bag. But even if by some miracle the cowboy managed to retrieve it, would it be enough to disarm all three thieves?
The second bandit fired one round, demolishing the heavy iron lock on the strongbox. If he noticed Leveeâ€™s tiny squeal of fright or Liamâ€™s gasp of shock, it didnâ€™t show. â€œMust be fifty thousand dollars in here!â€ he said, pawing through the contents. He gave a rousing â€œYee-haw!â€ and saluted his leader. â€œAllâ€™s I can say is, you sure know how to pick â€™em, Frank!â€
â€œShut up, fool!â€ bellowed the rifle-toting robber. â€œNow weâ€™ll hafta kill â€™em, soâ€™s they wonâ€™t be able to tell the rangers they was robbed by the Frank Michaels Gang!â€
The Frank Michaels Gang? Why did that sound so familiar? Leveeâ€™s question was quickly extinguished by a sickening admission: in her twenty-two years of life, sheâ€™d never given a thought to how she might leave this earth. Until now.
â€œNo need to get your dander up,â€ Mack drawled. â€œYâ€™all just keep right on helpinâ€™ yourselves to everything weâ€™ve got. Think of us as the three wise monkeys. We didnâ€™t see a thing or hear a thing, and we wonâ€™t speak a thing, either.â€
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ Liam quickly agreed, â€œeven if the Texas Rangers ask questionsâ€”an unlikely event, since we donâ€™t plan to seek them out.â€
Levee looked up at her husband, unable to decide which surprised her more: the fact that heâ€™d opened his mouth or that heâ€™d opened his medical bag. But in one beat of her hammering heart, his hand disappeared inside it. In the next, his puny revolver dangled from his fingertips. â€œI think you boys shouldâ€”â€
One shot rang out, and even before its echo fell silent, Liam slumped to the ground. â€œNo-o-o!â€ Levee wailed, dropping to her knees. She cradled his head in her lap and, for the first time since graduating from the New England Hospital for Women, regretted her nursing degree. Because one look at the bloody wound in the middle of his chest told her that although he wasnâ€™t dead yet, he soon would be.
Liam gasped for breath. â€œIâ€”I wanted toâ€”give themâ€”the gun,â€ he sputtered, â€œto p-prove weâ€”c-could be trustedâ€”â€
â€œHush, now,â€ she whispered, finger-combing dark curls from his forehead. â€œShh.â€
Mack threw his Stetson to the ground and kicked it. â€œOf all theâ€¦.â€ Arms whirling like a windmill, he kicked it again. â€œDid you hear what the man said? Heâ€™s from Boston, for the luvva Pete. He meant you no harm. Why, I doubt he couldâ€™ve hit the broad side of a barn with that pea shooter of his, even if heâ€™d tried!â€
â€œLooked to me like he was aiminâ€™ to shoot,â€ one of the bandits insisted, â€œanâ€™ nobody takes aim at Frank Michaels whilst Iâ€™m around.â€
The rifleman cursed under his breath. â€œThought I tolâ€™ you to shut up, Tom.â€
â€œAll of you shut up,â€ Frank snarled.
But Levee paid him no mind. â€œFight, Liam,â€ she urged him. â€œStay with me! You promised that as soon as we were settled, weâ€™dâ€”â€
His eyelids fluttered open, and an enormous, silvery tear leaked from the corner of one eye. â€œS-sorry, Levee,â€ he rasped, grabbing her hand. â€œS-sorryâ€¦.â€
â€œThereâ€™s nothing to be sorry for, Liam. Youâ€™re going to be fine.â€ Oh, please, God, let it be true! â€œJust fine! Do you hear me?â€ No sooner had the words passed her lips than his body shuddered once, and the fingers that had been squeezing hers went limp. A dribble of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth to his chin. Then, one grating, ragged breath later, he was gone.
Levee couldnâ€™t help feeling guilty about her role in his death. These horrible men had murdered her husband, but if she hadnâ€™t put her dream of a nursing degree ahead of their wedding plans, they would have had a house to call their own. If she hadnâ€™t spent so many hours on her feet at the hospital, they would have had a child or two, instead of two unfruitful pregnancies to mourn. Perhaps, with a family to occupy his time and fill his heart, Liam wouldnâ€™t have reacted with such enthusiasm to the article in the Boston Globe that spoke of the need for doctors in Mexico. Why had she let him talk her into this move? And why had she bowed to the dictates of society and the Good Book regarding wifely submission? If only sheâ€™d been stronger and less self-centered!
She watched the thugs help themselves to Liamâ€™s hard-earned savings. Watched them poke through her small suitcase as Frank Michaels tucked Grandpa Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s gold pocket watch into his vest. He looked up, caught her staring, and touched a finger to his hat brim. â€œMy apologies, maâ€™am,â€ he said, aiming a steely smile her way. â€œAnd to prove my sincerity, we arenâ€™t going to kill you. You have my word on that.â€ A grating chuckle passed through the red and black fabric of his bandanna. â€œAt least, not today.â€
His implied threat hung on the parched air as Levee looked into her husbandâ€™s ashy face. Almost from the moment theyâ€™d left Boston, Levee had been afraid. Afraid of ghastly-looking bugs and wild animals, afraid of the unrelenting wind and the dry, desolate land that seemed to stretch on forever. Afraid of the outlaws and bandits sheâ€™d read about. Distraught and anguished, she was beyond fear now. A swirl of self-blame, guilt, and shame roiled inside her like a cyclone, putting put her on her feet.
Fists balled at her sides, Levee marched up to the leaderâ€™s horse. â€œYou killed my husband for no reason, and you think a phony apology will make things right? Youâ€™reâ€”youâ€™re a lunatic, Frank Michaels, and so are these so-called men who ride with you.â€ Levee wiped angrily at her traitorous tears. â€œLook at you, hiding behind your masks. Why, youâ€™re nothing but cowards, the lot of you. Heartless thieves andâ€”and cold-blooded killers. Youâ€™d better shoot me good and dead, right here where I stand, because the very first chance I get, I will report you to the Texas Rangers, and nothing will please me more than to watch you hang for your crimes!â€
Her hysterical tirade silenced even the chorusing insects and chirruping birds. Silenced the amused chortles of Frank and his cohorts, too. The men exchanged puzzled glances, and then the one named Tom said, â€œYou want I should plug her, Frank, or dâ€™you wanna do it?â€
Frank rested one leather-gloved hand atop the other on his saddle horn, seeming to consider the idea. â€œI gave her my word, and I intend to keep it.â€
Tom snorted. â€œSheâ€™ll probably die of thirst before she reaches the next town, anyway.â€ Winking, he added, â€œIf the coyotes donâ€™t get her first.â€
Levee had been an unwilling eyewitness of what the mangy canines could do to a deer carcass, and in very little time, too. She pressed her fingertips to her closed eyes to block the grisly image, and when she did, the picture of Liamâ€™s lifeless body took its place. A dozen thoughts flitted through her head. Could she have used her medical training to do something to save him? Why hadnâ€™t she seen the gunman take aim before he fired at Liam? If she had, what might she have done to prevent the shooting?
â€œCoyotes,â€ she heard the rifleman say. â€œYou got that right, Tom. No chance sheâ€™ll live long enough to tell anybody what happened here.â€
Mackâ€™s voice broke through. â€œThat was uncalled for,â€ he grumbled. â€œThe poor woman just lost her husband.â€
As if she needed a reminder! Please, Lord, please, let this be a terrible nightmare. Let me wake up and realize thatâ€”
A deafening explosion ended her prayer. She wasnâ€™t dreaming, as evidenced by the whiff of smoke spiraling from Frankâ€™s gun barrelâ€”and the ghastly sound of Mackâ€™s body hitting the ground. â€œNo-o-o,â€ she wailed for the second time today. â€œNot him, too! B-but you promised not toâ€”â€
â€œI only promised not to kill you,â€ Frank said, then coolly holstered his revolver and faced Tom. â€œUnharness the team.â€
Frank and his men had ended three lives in barely more than three minutes, and with three words, heâ€™d dismissed the matter. The howling wind whirled around them, gathering the dust into tiny twisters that hopped across the prairie like jackrabbits. Levee buried her face in her hands, unwilling to let the bandits witness one more moment of her misery. She had the rest of her life for that.
Life. She almost laughed at the notion. Sitting in the middle of the Texas prairie, waiting for only the good Lord knew what to kill her, wasnâ€™t her idea of life.
An idea dawned: perhaps, if she got them good and angry, theyâ€™d shoot her, too, and she could join Liam in paradise.
So, Levee began hurling insults and slurs, shrieking like a crazed fishwife, and waving her arms. But she might as well have been a cactus or tumbleweed for all the attention they paid her. Infuriated, she picked up rocks and pebbles and hurled those, too, yet the outlaws continued to ignore her. It seemed they really did intend to leave her out here in the middle of nowhere to wait for starvation and thirstâ€”or hungry coyotesâ€”to kill her. Oh, Father, please let it be coyotes, she prayed. As painful and terrifying as that would be, sheâ€™d die faster that way than by natureâ€™s cruel hand. Either way, sheâ€™d have ample time to repent of her sins of selfishness.
â€œYouâ€™re no better than the coyotes!â€ But her words disappeared into their cloud of get-away dust and gleeful bellows. Hugging herself, Levee sunk to the dirt between Liam and Mack and sat on her boot heels, rocking and groaning, groaning and rocking, as she waited for the tears to start.
But not a single drop fell. Not for her husband or the babies theyâ€™d lost, not for the brave young cowboy who died defending her, not even for herself, alone and afraid, somewhere in West Texas.
She didnâ€™t know how many hours had passed when the sun began to sink below the horizon like a gold coin disappearing into a slot. A dark chill blanketed the plains, waking snaky shadows that slithered from bush to scrubby shrub. Thatâ€™s when strange, forlorn moans spilled forth from Leveeâ€™s lips, ascended into the blackness, and merged with the midnight cacophony of night birds and bugs and coyote calls.
By the time exhaustion rendered her silent, the moon was high in the sky, and she found herself cuddled up to Liam. And, though his lanky body offered no warmth or comfort, thatâ€™s where she stayed, praying that before morning, the Almighty in His loving mercy, would call her home, too.