A stand alone novel, published in 1986.
Tory Wells has been on her own since she was sixteen, driven by the dream of becoming a champion. But an injury has knocked her out of the competition for now – maybe forever – with no plans, no prospects, and nowhere to go.
A letter promising employment leads her to Sundance Ranch, but all she finds is bitter disappointment – and Ethan Reever, the devil himself. She knows she should leave as soon as possible, so why is she so certain that her life changed the moment she saw Ethan’s stormy gray eyes?
Tory Wells was just sixteen when she left home, to live with some other girls from her Swim Group. Training and diving competitions during the day, cooking to earn enough money next to her scholarship at night. But now she is almost 21, her knee gave up on her, and after surgery, she is told she has to give it a rest for at least three months. She has no other home, no money, and no place to go. Until one of the sponsors promises her employment on a ranch in Arizona he co-owns. They are setting up a vacation center, and they could use a swim coach. So with her last dollars, Tory makes the trip.
Only to be brutally disappointed by the manager, Ethan Reever. He thinks she is one of his cousins cast-off lovers, a useless week city girl. He has no use for her, so he sends her on her way again, without bothering to read the letter she has for him. She got a ride with the mail woman on her way in, but now she will have to walk 19 miles back to the nearest town. Which would not be so bad without her healing knee and her luggage. But she is stubborn, and there is no other option, so Tory goes on her way. Getting blisters from her luggage, and stones in her shoes from the bad roads. Then some punks in a hot car spot her walking al alone, and yell insults at her. Which she is used too, and ignores. Until the boys come back, and want to catch her. Then she throws her luggage across the barbed wire, and squeeze through herself, the only place to run. But one of the boys keep chasing her, until she is rescued by a man on a big black horse: Reever. He punishes the boy who chased her, and threatens him with worse if he ever hears about him hurting a girl ever again. But he is even more angry with Tory, for walking back to town on her own. That way she is just asking for trouble! So he takes her back to the ranch with him, after having the boys take her luggage to the only inn the village has, so one of his cowboys can take her to town in his truck. Tory has never ridden a horse before, and doesn’t know what he means, holding on to his saddle with her tortured hands is agony, but she bites her tongue and perseveres. Which makes him even more angry when he finds out later. But she doesn’t want to whine in his presence.
Reever has never been more attracted to a woman before than he is lusting after Tory. But he is 32 and she is just too damned young. He needs a woman to stand by him, work at the ranch with him, have his children. Not a spoiled city girl! He just doesn’t notice that Tory is anything but spoiled. She is used to hard work. And when, after getting back at the ranch, he discovers his cook went of on a drinking binge, again, she just starts making her own dinner as she hasn’t eaten anything at all that day. Tasting it, he hires her as his temporary cook until she has earned enough money for the busfare back home. Now she has to cook three meals a day for nine hungry cowboys and her self. But Tory likes it at the ranch, the land, the work. She takes over more and more little tasks around the house. Everyone likes her, and admires her for her hard work, except Reever. He doesn’t miss a chance to put her down, calling her clumsy and a city girl. And he just doesn’t seem to notice how much he hurts her by doing that. And of course she gets more and more clumsy when he is around. Every time he touches her, her skin is on fire. And that doesn’t happen with one of the other cowboys, only with him. No matter how badly he treats her, she sees the gentleness underneath, like when he is handling an injured horse or calve, and she longs to feel his hands on her.
When they finally become lovers, the pages are on fire. He is her first, and is going to make it good and memorable. Until one night Tory tells him she loves him, then he keeps his distance from her. She still has not enough money for the ride back home, but is determined to leave. He is hurting her too much to stay. But she will not go back to being a professional diver, she has discovered how much she loves working the land, living near the mountains. She will find another job, what, is not important.
Okay, I cried buckets reading this book. Totally loved it, even though it is older than a lot of you ;). It is a romance novel, and nothing more. But the way Elizabeth Lowell has with words, just touches my heart. She made me feel Tory’s hurt, and made me root for her, that her knee would get better, that Reever would she her for the woman she is, and not the young girl he thinks she is (and never was).
I didn’t like Reever all that much, cutting her down with his harsh words time and again. O he noticed it all right, and kept doing it to drive Tory away from him and the ranch. But every time she was enjoying herself with one of the other cowboys, he broke it up. Only in the last few pages I started liking him.
It is not a long book, but also not a novella. I like Elizabeth Lowell’s writing style, it is fast reading and you just have to know how they get to their happy ending (no, not marriage), knowing there will be more tears first.