Dr. Jake Dalton grew up in Pine Gulch, Idaho, and is pretty happy with his life, overall–he came back after finishing his studies to become the town’s doctor. It’s tiring work, but well worth it. As he’s headed home late one night, he spots a vehicle on the side of the road, a woman struggling to change a tire. He’s not seen Maggie Cruz in a long, long time!
Maggie’s just back from a long, long stay at Walter Reed in DC, after losing a leg in Afghanistan while serving as a nurse there. It certainly is nice that someone stopped to help her with the flat on her chariot, but if it were anyone but a Dalton! Her hatred for Jake’s family is long and intense, after Jake’s now-deceased father had apparently done lots of harm to her father, also now deceased. (Complex? Yes. But all is not quite as it seems, as Maggie’s mother explains later on.)
Jake catches Maggie doing things on her still-fresh prosthesis that he knows she shouldn’t, and helps her out around the family ranch a bit, whilst steam comes out of her ears at the frustration of having to deal with the Daltons, her situation…and the undeniable fact that she’s got the hots for him. Her mother is not a help, at all–she connives to get Maggie involved at the charity clinic that Jake operates one day a week, as a translator, since she knows the medical terms and is a fluent Spanish speaker. One thing leads to another, and he’s got the hots for her too!
I need to make a personal disclaimer here. I am an amputee, though mine was from a birth defect, not combat, as Maggie’s is. Yet, when Maggie starts to realize that Jake likes her too, she goes through a bit of mental calisthenics that is very familiar to me. Very, very familiar: She’s worried that he won’t want her, and won’t find her attractive, because she’s missing part of a leg. She sees her fear as well-founded, since her fiancée from before she lost her leg came to Walter Reed while she was in rehab, and broke up with her.
Hm…here, maybe this will help you see what I’m talking about:
Now what the heck was she supposed to do about it?
Oh, this would never do. She couldn’t bear another rejection. Her poor heart would crack apart. But she didn’t see any way for this to end in anything but disaster.
What did she have, anymore, to offer to a man like him? He was strong and healthy and decent. And she was a mess.
She stretched out her gimpy leg as those damn phantom pains clawed at her.
Who would want to willingly take on someone with her problems? She faced a lifetime of challenges. Medical expenses, prosthesis adjustments, lingering physical and psychological issues.
Any sane man would run for the hills when confronted with all that, even if he could manage to get beyond the obvious deformity of her missing limb.
See what I’m talking about here? This resonates with me, a lot. And later, when they finally do end up in bed together, she’s quite a bit nervous about what will happen when he helps her off with her peg leg–but it’s a non-issue, and Jake manages to turn it into a thoroughly awesome epiphany for her.
All that to say, I might be a little biased here–but I think this is a spectacularly well-done story. Thayne does a great job with the setting and personae throughout–there are no real “filler” characters; each stands as a clear and three-dimensional person. As an example, there is a side story involving Maggie’s mother and the brother of her late husband…and that story is beautifully crafted in its’ own right.
Maggie is–to me, at least–a thoroughly believable heroine. The way she processes the recent tragedy of her experiences in Afghanistan rings solidly true with me, and her concerns and struggles to adjust to her new level of capabilities are very well-described. Jake is also a “great guy”. Handsome, yes, certainly…but completely human. He cares about the folks in Pine Gulch, and enjoys being their doctor, but acknowledges the difficulties of being in such a rural place. There’s no “magical love affair with a handsome stranger” here, at all; this is a “real” story, about “real” people, that could happen to any of us, and that, to me, makes it a solid winner.