Sep 2 2014 3:30pm

First Look: Rosanne Bittner’s Desperate Hearts (September 2, 2014)

Desperate Hearts by Roseanne BittnerRosanne Bittner
Desperate Hearts
Sourcebooks / September 2, 2014 / $7.99 print & digital

Elizabeth Wainwright is on the run. Accused of a murder she didn't commit, she has no choice but to cut ties with her old life and flee West. The last thing she wants is attention, but when her stagecoach is attacked, she suddenly finds herself under the fierce protection of one of Montana's famed vigilantes...whether she likes it or not.
Lawman Mitch Brady is sworn to uphold justice in the wild lands of 1860's Montana. He's never met a man he's feared, and he's never met a woman more desperately in need of his help. Something's shaken the secretive Elizabeth, but as he gets to know the beautiful city belle, he finds the only thing he wants more than her safety...is her trust.

By this point we’re all aware, and will concede the fact, that small town contemporary romances have been a hot ticket for the last couple of years.  However, what hasn’t been discussed to quite the degree is that the trend has also been heavily influential on the historical western sub-genre.  Cutesy small towns with white picket fences, where the good townsfolk go to church every Sunday, where there are barn raisings, picnics, July 4th celebrations and a hunky town lawman who will inevitably fall in love with the spinster schoolmarm.  Nothing wrong with these sorts of westerns, per se, but God bless Rosanne Bittner for keeping it old school.  Bittner built her career writing lawless westerns.  Westerns set in dissolute areas where the local law consisted of a sturdy tree and a hangman’s noose.  Where the characters would go to church on Sunday assuming there was a church to go to and not six feet of snow outside the front door of their one-room cabin.

Bittner had a few years of publishing inactivity, but has since signed on with Sourcebooks. Desperate Hearts is her second original work for them and features trademarks one would expect from one of her westerns: the moral hero with a code of honor, the heroine who is in over her head at first, but then toughens up, and the general lawlessness that plagues a land where civilization hasn’t firmly taken root.  The slight variation on the themes this time is Bittner does set her story in a small town, albeit a make-shift mining boomtown with the hero lawman who is half a step up from vigilante.

The heroine, born and bred in New York City, finds herself in such a place because she’s running away.  Naturally she sets her sights on Montana because it’s the very last place her abusive stepfather (who also happens to be her uncle) would think to look for her.  What she doesn’t quite factor in is that Montana is a long way from New York City, in more ways than one.  She’s alone, she’s scared, and her protector turns out to be the hero, a lawman who is the law by a very thin line indeed: “You’re a sweet young lady,” he told her, grasping her arm gently.  “I won’t let anything happen to you.”  He held her gaze, and Elizabeth felt splendid warmth, a feeling of total safety.  She felt like crying.  Somehow, she believed him…and it had been such a long time since she’d felt safe.

It’s a rescue fantasy wrapped around a small town setting with a rugged hero and a heroine completely ill-prepared for the life she ran away to.  It’s the two main types of western rolled into one: readers get the lawless uncertainty, plus the small town vibe complete with a cornucopia of secondary characters.

We also get ourselves a real old school villain.  The kind of villain so vile, so disgusting, so completely devoid of anything remotely resembling anything good that you mentally picture him twirling his mustache.  You also stand up and cheer when such a disgusting piece of humanity is brought down by….women.  Yes, women.  And not just any women, but women that the villain completely underestimates because, well, they are women.  Talk about “You go girls!”

It’s small town cuteness meets vigilante rough and tough.  A picture of the American West on the cusp of civilization, but not quite there yet.


Learn more about or order a copy of Desperate Hearts by Rosanne Bittner, available now:

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Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.

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