To Seduce and Defend is my first book by Deborah Camp. It’s a Western Historical Romance I picked up on a whim while checking the author’s backlist on Amazon. I had no idea what to expect, but was really surprised how well-written it was. I can truly say that I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would!
Jennie arrived to Guthrie from St. Louis to stake a claim on the land her recently deceased husband Charles had supposedly bought for them. Like other people searching for a piece of land in this small but surely budding town, Charles came in search of a piece of land to settle down. They didn’t have a lot and Jennie had to be the leader in their marriage because Charles wasn’t up to the task. She was tired of living a tedious life with her in laws and wanted better for their only child, Oliver. When Charles returned, things hadn’t been the same with them until his death by illness a few months later. He said he wasn’t able to buy any land and his distant, melancholy demeanor, Jennie thought, was because he thought he’d failed them. After Charles’s death all she could do was to think of getting away from her in laws. When she found the deed to the land Jennie was thoroughly surprised, but she also saw an escape to a place she’s never been to before.
She was waiting in her lawyer Mr. Polk’s office when the first glance of him made Jennie double-take. He was much younger than she’d expected, tall and well-built. He was blonde and without a doubt handsome. However, then the man introduced himself as Zachary Warner, Mr. Polk’s partner. He had been assigned to brief Jennie of the latest developments in her case. Intrigued but worried, Jennie followed him to his office only to find that bad news was waiting for her. Really bad news; something that’d rock the foundation of her trust. It seemed that Charles indeed bought that land but it wasn’t her and Oliver’s. In fact, she’s not a widow but a divorcee! It seemed people from everywhere in America flocked to Guthrie not only for land but also to get hassle free divorce. Both parties didn’t need to be present for that to happen. That’s exactly what Charles did—he divorced her and married some woman of the town, who now owns the land Jennie had dreamed of while traveling here planning a new beginning.
Jennie was not only shocked, she was in disbelief. How could Charles?! There must be some mistake here! I could only imagine her state of mind. :( But that also explained to her why he was so withdrawn from them and refused to resume any marital relations with her. Jennie wasn’t even sure why he returned if he was so taken with his new bride that he didn’t even think of Oliver! There were so many questions that Jennie had no answers to, she may never have answers to. The only stark reality was—she had no land to claim, very little money, yet a little boy to take care of as well as herself.
Even though Mr. Warner saw no other options left but to check it out with Luna Lee, Charles’s widow, to see if she’d be willing to negotiate, Jennie wasn’t giving up so easily. She had nothing left in St. Louis anymore so she must settle down here. At first, sheltered and naïve, she thought it won’t take long. Luna Lee, who now married an elderly and retired but very rich judge and lives a lavish lifestyle, must see reason and give her land back. After all, what need does she have of it now? Jennie even made living arrangements, and was lucky enough to get herself a job so wait it out. However, she soon realized it wasn’t as easy as she’d thought it’d be. Luna Lee is not a woman anyone wished to cross and she wasn’t interested in giving back anything.
Luna Lee was known to be a social climber. She came from nothing and clawed her way up to where she is today. Zachary knows cause after Charles left, she’d tried to cast her net on him. He was way more experienced in the ways of jaded people, being one himself, and he knew it won’t be an easy task to convince her. Luna will never give that land back by her own so he’ll have to be keen on finding a loophole. Zachary is mainly a divorce lawyer here. He came to Guthrie a year or so ago for some easy cash on those cases, but seeing so many unhappy marriages and being a part of one since his childhood, he had no faith in it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take up on Jennie Hastings’ case but his partner felt sorry for the woman and was too burdened with other cases to get to it. One look at Jennie’s serene dark haired beauty, he knew he needed to help her. She seemed so alone with that little boy of hers in tow, yet she managed to put a brave face and took the devastating news in without a hitch. She had even managed to find a job here until her case is resolved. IF it resolved to be precise. But she’d already earned Zachary’s respect and he had vowed to help her in any way possible.
Jennie and Oliver settled down way better than they thought they’d be able to in a new town and it didn’t take long for them to start making friends. Mainly because everyone here knew of Charles’s shenanigans, the news of his death because of Luna’s hasty marriage to the judge soon after. What they didn’t know was that Charles had left a family behind. So Jennie had quite a bit of sympathy from the townspeople even if it somehow felt wrong because she’d never imagined herself to be in such a crazy situation. She also began to realize that acquiring her own land may stay a dream hearing what kind of a greedy and cold-hearted woman Luna was. She refused to even see her, let alone hear Jennie’s plea. Jennie had no money to buy it back; she didn’t know if she’d ever make enough money to buy a piece of land of her own.
From her bitter disappointment came a surprisingly beautiful discovery too. Jennie had already begun the process of forgetting Charles and moving on and Zachary Warner was proving to be quite the distraction she desperately needed. He was smart and funny. He and Oliver had promptly taken a shine to one-another. Zachary was no doubt gentle and caring but unlike Charles, he had a stronger personality and used to taking charge. The attraction they shared for each-other was promptly noted and it seemed, he returned her feelings. The ‘attraction’ part obviously, not quite the part where Jennie began feeling she was falling in love with her lawyer. Zachary had already made sure she knew that: 1) he maintains the principal to never to get involved with his clients ever, and 2) that he isn’t definitely the marrying kind. That second point may never change, though they can work on the first point to have it resolved soon enough. Jennie knew she’d love to be a part of Zach’s life but what about him? After hearing his POV on marriage, it sure didn’t look too promising.
The twists in the story were really good and kept me hooked until the end. I thought Jennie was an amazingly courageous heroine to take the steps she’d taken quite alone in this world and Zachary was a hot hero. I also liked the narratives of a small-town, to read about the day-to-day lives of those people that Jennie called friends. Though Jennie and Zachary’s chemistry wasn’t as explosive as I initially thought it’d be, I loved their slow burning relationship. Zachary was so taken with Jennie and Oliver he was a changed man in no time, even if it took him a bit of a time to come to the conclusion that having them in his life would be the best thing ever, rather than letting them go. That definitely was a good thing for Jennie who needed stability and a manly presence in her and her son’s life.
Funnily enough, in the end I felt really sad for Charles. Even though I don’t condone what he did because he was an adult and made his decisions, he was also a victim. He sounded naïve too and fell into the clutches of an opportunist. We’d never know the exact reason behind his actions but he did realize his mistake and repented in his own way until his death. Making no excuse for him here but that’s just how I felt. I know Jennie would agree because she made amends with her past and forgave Charles of his transgressions. That’s the best way to move on I guess.
All in all, a good read and recommended if you love Western Historical Romances. 4 stars. Definitely going to check out more from the author’s backlist.