SPOILER ALERT!

Solitary Horseman

Solitary Horseman - Deborah Camp

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Solitary Horseman is my second novel by Deborah Camp. So far, I’m really enjoying her voice and the stories she likes to tell. As a huge fan of western historical romances, I can honestly say that it was a wonderful read. Loved the storyline, the characters and pretty much everything in this one.

Solitary Horseman is set just after the American Civil War. You could still see the wounds of the war, in both lands and its people. Just because the war was over didn’t mean everybody settled in peacefully. No, because people were still scared, still letting the viciousness of the war ravaging them. It seemed like there was no escaping it. But even in the midst of this, there were some who were trying to live their lives as best as they could. One of them was rancher Callum Latimer. The war has taken a lot from him, including his 2 bothers and his mother. It’s taken his peace of mind, filling it with PTSD after what he’d witnessed when he was fighting himself but he was trying his best.

Callum’s father, Seth, established the Latimer Ranch which has been very well-known in the area for many years for its size and the quality of its cattle, and they have always been treated as Royalty. Callum and his 2 bother, Maxwell and Harrison, were to be running the ranch once Seth wasn’t able anymore. Well, Maxwell, being the eldest had the privilege to be trained to take the lead. He was much like Seth, big and strong, a leader through and through. Harrison, the youngest, was mostly the goofy one but he was aware of his duty. Callum, in the middle, never felt like a leader but he was strong and able enough to follow Maxwell in any directions. The brothers had a very good relationship and were inseparable... until the war had torn them apart forever.

The toll it’s taken on Callum’s psyche is unimaginable; most especially when his larger than life father fell from a horse and injured himself so badly that now he can barely walk. Callum, who never felt like a natural leader, is now practically running the ranch all on his own. Even after months since the war ended, he feels weary to the bone and very, very lonely. That was the first thing I noticed in the beginning and my heart went out to him immediately. I couldn’t even imagine how he was coping, especially since he was also dealing with PTSD with no outside help.

But his life was about to change, as Callum would find out soon. One day, while surveying his lands he spies on someone coming to their ranch. He wasn’t sure what she wanted cause this wasn’t a neighborly visit even though they have been neighbors for as long as he can remember. The Paynes weren’t the type anyone would want as neighbors and people here let them know constantly. They never could run their ranch as efficiently as one would’ve expected them to, even with the owner having 3 sons himself. Now 2 are dead, one returned but he’s not himself any longer. Callum hasn’t seen the youngest, a daughter, Banner, for a while so he wasn’t sure why she’d be visiting them. He only knew his father won’t be happy cause he held a deep-seated grudge for the Paynes, not only because of their untidy, lazy character but also because Seth thought Otis Payne had stolen his cattle. Who cares how long ago it was, he did it and Seth would remind of it every chance he got. His dislike for the Paynes bordered on hatred, so he was naturally unhappy to see Banner. He won’t even listen to what she had to say...

Banner had lost her mother when she was barely but a toddler. It’s always been her Papa and her 3 brothers. She’d never known how messy and dirty they were until her eyes opened on a visit to someone’s house. Before that Banner didn’t know why the children didn’t want to mingle and play with them. After seeing how clean and nice a house, and the persons inside, could be, Banner had learned her lesson. Even though she couldn’t change the men of her house, she’d tried her best to stay as presentable as possible. She’d keep their house cleaner and neater, as rickety as it was. Banner was just trying her best, as everyone else, to survive.

I started with Banner’s obsession with cleanliness because it was one of those things that tormented her childhood. Even though her brothers weren’t bothered being boys, it gave her a new perspective of life when she finally figured out she can live better, feel better... hell even look better. Unknowing to her, Callum did think Banner was very attractive with her dark hair and amber eyes and how she liked to dress, even if those have seen better days. She was young and looked small, but she had mettle. She’d taken care of the ranch after her brothers died in the war, her father not long after that and Callum could certainly respect that. Hollis, the remaining brother, came back but barely a shell of himself. It pains Banner to see him this way but she had no idea how to help him and his nightmares that’d keep him awake at night, or make him stare blankly at nothing in the daytime as if he’s lost in a place no one can ever visit. Except maybe for someone who’d seen the same things as he had.

Hollis had always been a gentle soul, a poetic child who loved reading. He wasn’t made for tough cattle ranching much as he wasn’t made to fight in a war. But he was all Banner had and she planned to keep him close by as long as possible. However, with dwindling help and financial status, also with the Yankees sniffing after their ranch, Banner doesn’t think she can keep the Payne ranch floating any longer. She knows no one will help her so maybe selling is the best option. But who can she offer the ranch when Paynes have such lowly reputation that people wouldn’t even acknowledge them when they were in town? She knew Callum’s mother Lacy never liked them, which showed on her face. She now knows how much Seth hates her whole lot. Would Callum even consider her proposal, let alone agreeing to it?

I loved Banner on spot. She was courageous for certain and I applauded that in her. She wasn’t sure of her welcome in the Latimer ranch, yet she knew she had to take the step and she didn’t back down. The war took many things but she still held this beguiling quality that wasn’t destroyed so her reaction to her first sight of Callum was very genuine. She hadn’t seen him for a long time so the whole thing hit her quite hard; so tall and strong, dark hair and green eyes... very striking in every way imaginable. I think Banner fell for him that day but she also knew Callum would never look at her twice being who she was. Well, she had no idea what he was thinking… if only she knew. :D

Unsurprisingly, Seth had no interest in anything to do with Paynes and her proposal of selling the ranch to them. But Banner was desperate as she deemed the Latimers to be her last hope (at least that’s how I felt). All she asked that they let Hollis stay while she goes and tries to find work in town. Hollis wasn’t fit to do anything else and the familiarity of his surroundings gave him some comfort. Banner hoped Latimers won’t begrudge him this much. When it seemed like her plea was falling on deaf ears, Callum steps in and offers to check her ranch out the following day.

And that was the beginning of good luck for Banner Payne. She didn’t know that Callum had already planned on helping her even when Seth wouldn’t even hear of it. While visiting the Payne ranch, Callum ate her cooked breakfast and the deal was pretty much sealed. Banner could cook and that was one thing no one can remotely deny! Callum only had one helping hand at home, a Native American woman whose husband and sons worked in his ranch. And neither he, nor Seth could stomach her cooking. So they were looking for an intervention badly and Banner was the perfect solution. Callum offers to help with her ranch since they didn’t have the money to buy it at that point after the loss they suffered in the war. In return, all Banner had to do was to cook, clean and keep an eye on Seth. Even knowing Seth’s extreme dislike for them, Banner was exceptionally happy to have this lifeline thrown at her. She won’t have to leave her home and Hollis. She was already feeling like kissing Callum Latimer... if only she could. ;)

To say that the first few days in the Latimer ranch didn’t go smoothly for Banner would be an understatement, when Seth was being a grumpy ol’ a$$hole. A thorn on her side. He’d either ignore her completely or say something really rude. But for some reason I knew Seth didn’t have any murderous intentions for all his grumbles. Not after he’d eaten food cooked by Banner.  LOL I found the whole thing between him and Banner funny cause I knew this won’t hold for long. Callum and the other ranch hands would’ve come after him for sure cause everybody loved Banner’s cooking. They liked Banner too, quite a bit cause she was well-spoken and very hard working, exact opposite of how the Paynes were known for. But Banner was also pretty and it was a plus point on her side. It doesn’t take long for her to conquer the Latimer ranch. :D

As months pass by, the attraction between Banner and Callum becomes difficult to hide. Even with all her insecurities, when she finally found Callum felt the same about her, Banner felt like she’s flying. Callum had done plenty, big or small, around her ranch that he didn’t need doing. He had given her the equal partnership in their deal. Yep, Banner’s esteem for him rose every day. He reciprocating was just the cherry on top. Plus Seth was also coming around and Banner liked being in their house much more than she used to in the beginning. Even though she still worried for Hollis, she now knew they may have a future after all. I loved their chemistry cause it was quite sizzling from day one, their connection instant. Banner, having served as a volunteer by helping in various hospitals in the war, knew a bit of the horror her brother or Callum must’ve experienced first-hand. Even though Hollis was too gentle a soul, maybe ravaged to a point beyond redemption, Callum had a tougher persona. He could contain himself and hid his emotions well. But Banner still recognized the shadows that lurked behind his eyes well enough to know nightmares plagued him too. It was one of those things that connected them. After months (maybe even years) of feeling lonely, Callum finally found someone who understood him. With whom he felt comfortable enough to talk to. And it was cherry on top that he wanted her like he’d never wanted any girl before. There was no one for him but Banner.

But the things will not go smooth for our lovely couple because they lived in a country still in turmoil by the aftermaths of a long war; when men were still hankering for a fight, and hatred for people of other races and colors were still displayed so blatantly. There were bad news everywhere and Banner was worried for the people she cared for, for Callum who had become the light of her life, as she became his. Callum didn’t support what was happening around him and having Native Americans as his friends, he was duly worried that those who are behind the unrest would attack him or his ranch. But the worst blow, for me, probably was Hollis’s death. I hit me way harder than I thought it would, almost as it hit Banner. I had hoped maybe he’d find someone like Callum and Banner had found each-other, who’d help him through his own nightmares, but it was not to be. :(

In the end, I had to minus 0.5 for one thing only. The story was very well-written, well researched with lovely characters. However, as much as I loved my H and h and their chemistry and their hot kisses, the ending was abrupt. There was no love scene between them which really, REALLY frustrated me. The ending surprised me to a point I wanted to scream! BUT, I know this won’t bother most of you. I’d highly recommend if you’re a lover of western historical romances. 4 solid stars.