Wild Rain is the second novel in acclaimed historical romance author Beverly Jenkins's newest series Women Who Dare. It's a cinematic adventure, with snow-capped mountains, majestic forests, and plenty of Old West atmosphere — including some truly nasty, wrath-deserving villains. But it also provides a perspective on African American life years after the end of the Civil War, when Black people lived in communities not yet poisoned by Jim Crow laws.
Spring Rain Lee is the sister of Dr. Colton Lee, hero of Jenkins' previous novel Tempest, now married to Regan Carmichael, the heroine of that story. Spring is a match for anyone who attempts to get in her way or question her behavior. She wears leathers, can ride a horse with or without a saddle, and drinks whiskey. She is not a lady, according to her definition of womanhood. Fiercely independent and capable of running her ranch alone, she is a woman who has experienced the darker side of life, but has come through those desperately hard times stronger and self-assured. And now her loves are simple: her land, her horses, her cabin, her chores, and her freedom. And after her close encounter with extreme brutality, she handles those who might criticize or harm her with an uncompromising tongue or the Colt Peacemaker holstered at her side.
Newspaperman, carpenter, and lawyer Garrett McCray, formerly enslaved, is on his way to town to interview Dr. Lee, Spring's brother. A man from back East, he isn't prepared for the harrowing journey to the Wyoming Territory in winter. When Spring finds him, he's lying in the middle of the road in a snowstorm with an injured leg, and nearly frozen to death.
From the beginning of the story, Spring's courage and ability to handle the weather, the horses, and the people around her leave little doubt she is a woman to be reckoned with. So it doesn't take long for Garrett McCray to become fascinated by her drive, beauty, and quick tongue. However, he also becomes interested in the people in her community, in and around the small town called Paradise. The author's note tells us that McCray is what romance writers call a cinnamon roll hero: He is sweet, kind, supportive, and almost "too good for this world;" definitely the one we suspect will make the biggest sacrifices for his relationship. I adored him and chose to believe men like Garrett McCray exist anywhere heroes can be found.
I love a character with a great name that immediately gives an insight to the book's theme. Spring Rain Lee is such a name, courtesy of her Shoshone grandmother. The idea of passing seasons, from the bitter cold, high snowdrifts, and white mountain peaks, seemingly represents the changing pattern of the hero and heroine's relationship and the obstacles they face. As the season shifts, and the snow thaws, turning to mud, the dangers — not only to the couple's growing attraction but to their well-being — become more apparent.
Beautifully written, Spring and Garrett's love affair is intimate, passionate, and sexy. But this isn't only a story of two people falling in love in the Old West: There are men who would harm Spring and Garrett, one an unsavory businessman who will do anything to get what he wants from the people of Paradise, in particular Spring, and another the vengeful son of the man she worked for in her youth. The bad guys in this story are as richly drawn as the hero and heroine, and with Jenkins' tight plotting, "reading on the edge of your seat" is not just a notion.
Jenkins's novel also paints a lovely landscape of the Wyoming Territory with resonant compassion for wildlife and nature. And I enjoyed meeting the townspeople of Paradise, particularly Odell and Dovie, two of several unforgettable co-stars.
Wild Rain will linger in your thoughts for its remarkably likable hero, spirited heroine, beautiful horses, scenery, adventure, and romance. It's the kind of excellent storytelling that keeps us coming back for more, again and again from Beverly Jenkins.
Denny S. Bryce writes historical fiction. Her first novel, Wild Women and the Blues, is coming this year.