By Linda Lael Miller
Release Date: September 28, 2010
As a young teen, Willow had seen in Gideon’s portrait the personification of male good looks and courage. She had even called him Lancelot. Predictably, when they meet, she falls in love with him. Even the cruel trick he and his bother played on her is not enough to end her love. Gideon’s attraction to Willow is no less powerful, and the two are soon living as husband and wife on the ranch Gideon purchases for his bride. But Willow’s loyalties are tested, as she and Gideon struggle with trust issues and with their very different convictions about the kind of man Steven Gallagher truly is.
Willow spent the first nine years of her life with her mother (ironically named Chastity) and her mother’s outlaw lover; her brother and a Mexican servant Maria as her protectors. She has spent the last ten years in her father’s home with a stepmother who resents her as a reminder of Devlin Gallagher’s infidelity. Yet, except for being “high-spirited and impulsive,” she seems to have escaped remarkably unscathed and with extraordinarily dim memories of her early years. Separation from his father has been the defining factor in shaping the man her brother becomes, but neither her fatherless years, the death of her mother, nor the radical change from an outlaw’s life to a life of privilege appears to have affected Willow in significant ways. I had a difficult time accepting her apparently easy adjustment and a harder time seeing her as a heroine because she never seems grown up.
Gideon, too, leaves me ambivalent. He has decided appeal, but I can’t forget that he was a decade older than the then-seventeen-year old Willow when he agreed to the fake wedding. Like Willow, his past leaves few scars. He has grown up virtually parentless. His father is dead, and growing up in San Francisco, he and his brother see their mother, who lives in Montana Territory with her second husband, only occasionally. His resentment of his mother’s choices is revealed only after her death, a death that occurs unexpectedly and that conveniently frees Devlin Gallagher to marry his mistress, a more sympathetic character than his embittered wife. But it is Gideon’s brother Zachary that troubles me most of all. At first I saw him as a charming scoundrel, not above scoring off his golden-boy younger brother, yet not really evil. Then he turns out to have manipulated several “accidents” from which Gideon barely escapes with his life, and he also tries to force himself upon Willow. He’s a would-be murderer and rapist, and yet he just disappears from the story after Willow knees him and pushes him out of the rig. Another villain escapes as well. I found the characterization thin, and I was frustrated by plot points that were either dropped or concluded too conveniently.
Willow is a revised edition of an early book by Linda Lael Miller. The original was published in 1984, the year following Miller’s debut. Miller describes the new and improved version as a “retelling” and an expansion of “subplots, love scenes, and . . . characterization.” Since I haven’t read the original, I can’t be sure what was added. The secondary love stories of Gideon’s intended bride and Steven and Willow’s father and his mistress may be among the additions. Almost certainly the number of love scenes has been increased, and perhaps the level of sensuality has been increased as well. The story pairs a stubborn, independent heroine and a prideful, dominant hero, and the resulting conflicts temporarily resolve themselves in bed (or outdoors or in the stable or . . .) until the couple achieves their HEA. It’s an interesting book as part of this author’s prolific oeuvre, and Miller’s many fans doubtless will enjoy this revamped story that in most ways is quintessential Linda Lael Miller.