Tempest by Beverly Jenkins is a mail order bride historical romance that’s light on internal conflict but heavy on awesome heroines and world-building. If you want a romance that doesn’t have a ton of emotional angst, but does have a heroine who accidentally (kind of) shoots her intended the first time she meets him, this is all your catnip. It’s also the third book in the Old West series, but can easily be read as a standalone.
Regan Carmichael has left her home in Arizona after agreeing to marry Dr. Colton Lee in the Wyoming Territory. Regan and Colt aren’t hoping for a love match; he’s a widower who needs a mother for his daughter Anna, and Regan is looking for a partnership and some adventure. Much of the internal conflict arises from the fact that Regan is not a conventional woman for the time and Colt sometimes struggles with that.
Also she accidentally shoots him, which, to be fair, is kind of a big deal. For the record, the coach Regan is in is being robbed and she shoots Colt in the shoulder thinking he’s a bad guy when he’s really part of a sheriff’s posse. Colt is kind of salty about it.
Initially Colt isn’t sure that Regan is the right woman for him, despite how well matched they seemed in their letters. She’s got her own money (much more than he does), she shoots (already noted), rides like a hellion, fishes, swims, and basically does whatever she wants because she’s a badass. Colt’s first wife, Adele, was a demure woman who fit the description of a “proper lady” for the time. He’s not entirely sure how to handle Regan.
Colt is also surprised to learn that Regan enjoys sex. They discuss the topic fairly early on when Regan tells Colt that she’s not a virgin:
Regan wished she knew him well enough to tell what might be going through his head. She’d always been forthright because she found the truth to be a better road than lying.
“A man prefers his wife to be a virgin.”
“I know that but men can visit women like my mother, and have mistresses with no repercussions from society. I’m not a whore, Dr. Lee. I don’t plan to have relations outside my marriage, and I don’t expect my husband to seek solace with someone else either.”
“So, you’ll accept my needs in the marriage bed without complaint?”
“As long as you extend me the same courtesy.”
“Good women don’t have needs.”
She scoffed, “And you call yourself a doctor. Let’s get to Spring’s before it’s full dark, shall we?”
Oh, Colt, you sweet summer child.
Pretty much all of the internal conflict comes from Colt being shocked by Regan, then accepting her in slow degrees. It takes time for them to fully come to trust each other and fall in love, but there’s no tremendous obstacle in their way.
There is a ton of external conflict though, and the world building in the town Colt and Regan inhabit is excellent. This book has a large supporting cast, and I love it when romance characters don’t exist in isolation (or with one token best friend). Regan immerses herself in the town’s politics, makes friends (and enemies) with other local women, and does her best to be a good mother to Anna.
Anna manages to escape being a plot moppet; she’s a well-developed character in her own right. After Adele died, Anna was partially raised by Adele’s aunt Minnie who is strict and overbearing. Adele died in childbirth and Minnie tells Anna she killed her mother. I wanted to smack that woman across the head with my Kindle when I read that. She doesn’t let Anna get dirty or play or do any normal childhood things. Regan immediately takes over and is like a Old West Mary Poppins who helps Anna come out of her shell and experience some joy. Watching the little girl slowly emerge from a sad and repressed place was beautiful and probably my favorite part of the book.
Of course, this alienates Minnie, who thinks she knows what’s best for Anna (and resents Regan for “replacing” Adele). There’s also Colleen, a local widow, who thought she would be Colt’s wife and despises Regan for taking her (assumed) place. There’s still an outlaw on the loose looking to get revenge on Regan for the shootout and also a deadly cougar named One-Eye. Oh, and Colt’s grandpa hates Regan because he needs some Metamucil in his diet or something and is perma-grumpy.
It’s a lot to squeeze into one book, especially when you add Regan’s developing friendship with Colt’s sister Spring (which was delightful) and her involvement in local politics. Somehow, though, nothing feels compressed or underdeveloped. Even with a few lines, each supporting character is fleshed out and feels entirely real. Sometimes I wondered how much sleep Regan was getting, but that was about it.
Actually the character who felt the least developed to me was Colt, which was why I gave this book an A- instead of an A. Colt is quiet and reserved and he seems to exist in two states: shocked by Regan, and in love with Regan and not sure what to do about it. Sometimes I feel like the heroines of romance novels are intentionally underdeveloped in order for the reader to more easily stand in her place and experience a romance with the hero. I’m not saying that was the intent here, but I had a similar feeling as I was reading. I often found myself filling in for Colt, being in awe of and delighted by Regan and her no fucks given. In many ways this book was a celebration of unconventional women (Spring fits that bill, too) and I was good with that.
If you want a lot of emotional angst in your romance, then Tempest is not for you. If you’re looking for an amazing heroine, a great backdrop and a lot of action, then definitely pick this up.
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