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Parting Gifts by Lorraine Heath

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Parting Gifts

Lorraine Heath
Historical Romance/Western
Published in 1994

H/h - Jesse Lawson/Maddie Sherwood
Setting: Texas, 1881.

Read in July, 2011.
My rating:

                                                        [spoiler alert]

Really, didn’t know where to put Charles in this book. Second hero? I don’t know. He played such a huge role in the whole book yet we knew he’s dying somewhere in the middle of it. Jesse, I really loved him, just too perfect of a guy. There was only one statement about Maddie Charles made that I didn’t like, otherwise he was a near perfect, too good a man as well. And the kids, GOD! They were so so ADORABLE. Lorraine Heath writes children so well, this book proved it once again.

Maddie was just too hungry and helpless on a cold night when she decides to sell herself to a brothel. Charles, a widower, was there for some companionship when Maddie’s virginity was put to sale. Charles couldn’t stand it and ‘bought’ Maddie’s virginity. He makes the madam believe that he wants her for a whole night and takes her to his hotel. There, he gives her food and asks various questions. Something about him, Maddie knew, was so very different from the men she knew all her life. He has a pair of kind eyes and a jolly disposition, yet there is an aura of sadness around him. When Charles proposed her to marry and tells her about his deceased wife and the love they shared, Maddie was instantly relieved, yet intrigued too. Charles tells her he’s impotent from a stable accident, so the marriage would be in name only. All he wants her to be a mother to his three young children. Maddie had nowhere else to go or no one turn to and this seemed like a heaven sent opportunity, so she agrees, albeit Charles’s words on never loving her or his inability to make her his ‘wife’ in true sense. Later in the story, a lot of the times Charles talked about how much he loved his Alice and memories about their marriage to Maddie. I found the whole situation rather awkward TBH.

Anyway, they marry and return home. Charles runs an inn for the stage coach passengers. All his family live there too, including his older brother Jesse. Jesse works for him, day and night. He used to be a Texas Ranger but gave up his job after finding Charles. Finding? It seems like, when they were young and orphaned, Charles, Jesse and their only younger sister Cassie was given to separate foster families. It was a painful memory, I felt sad knowing how the 12 yrs old Jesse had to be tied down to the wagon because he didn’t want to leave an 8 yrs old Charles and even younger Cassie. 20 yrs later, Jesse finds Charles out but wasn’t successful about Cassie, which still pains him. After Charles’s wife Alice died giving birth to Taylor, the youngest of Charles’s children, Jesse settled down with him and helping him ever since. When Charles returns from Fort Worth with a wife instead of his cattle, a dream their father planted into him on an early age, Jesse is furious. Most of the money spent in the brothel was his life’s saving from the job. Jesse decides there’s something fishy about the whole thing and is instantly suspicious of Maddie. But, he’s attracted to her as well. Maddie’s feelings for him are the same. She thinks he’s rude and so on, but on their first meeting, while Jesse was helping her from the coach, all she can see was the pelt of his chest hair :p and oops, she’s blushing! Their attraction is instant.

Then Maddie meets Charles’s kids; 8 yrs old Aaron, 5 yrs old Hannah and 2 yrs old Taylor. Aaron doesn’t welcome her but two younger ones do on the spot and, melt my heart in the process. I loved the way Jesse cleared his throat really loud to gain attention. Maddie took the children in her arms and her heart and starts caring for them. In the meantime, Jesse learns from Charles the truth about his marriage and behaves like an a$$ with Maddie. She’s scared. She’s also apprehensive of Jesse being a former Ranger because it seems like, she has a dark past. I was really interested and Lorraine Heath did manage to catch my attention with it. For a longtime in the book, I couldn’t guess anything about Maddie’s past. Soon, the more they get to know each-other, Jesse starts liking Maddie and so does she. Aaron, who spent a lot of his time growing up under Jesse’s influence, adores him, so with a little nod from Jesse, Aaron also accepts Maddie. She also made some efforts by helping Aaron plant flowers in his mother’s grave close to the inn. Hannah and Taylor were too young and they were already calling Maddie ‘ma’.

Just after they married, Charles had one his spells and he fell asleep like a drunkard. This led Maddie to think she might me married to one. But, Charles promised he’ll try never to imbibe again. Afterwards, from Jesse and Charles’s conversations and one serious spell of his illness, it’s apparent that Charles is very sick and doctors can’t find any solution. He has really bad headaches and then faints. The spells are coming back more often now. Charles might not live. Jesse works hard because of that, leaving Charles to spend more time with his kids. Jesse doesn’t even think of marrying and moving away, he loves this family so very much. Not surprising to me. But there was one statement by Charles took me by surprise. They had a fight over Maddie for God’s sake, just because Jesse called her a whore and berated Charles for spending his hard won money on her. I didn’t think this is how Charles looked at Maddie anyway. So, when the brothers, again talk about her and Jesse understands that Charles said nothing to her about his illness, Jesse asked him about Maddie’s feelings. Let me quote Charles’s answer:
Charles had looked at him as though he was an idiot. "She's a whore for Christ's sake, Jesse. Surely, you don't think I should treat her like she has feelings?"

Huh??? But I guess, his opinions of her soon changed just like Jesse’s.

Anyway, later on it seems like Jesse and Maddie forms a sort of relationship; it can be called ‘friendship’ but it’s very much apparent that it’s more than just friendship. I had a hard time terming their relationship, really. If I talk about it literally, it’d sound like adultery but if you read the book, you’ll see there are subtle things in it that don’t really make it as one. I’m still not sure how to put it but I, who CAN’T stand cheating in a book or RL, have reservations calling it an adulterous relationship. It was good that they depended on each-other and Charles had no objections too.

By now, Jesse knows well that Maddie isn’t the sort he thought she was; that she wants to make Charles and the kids happy. So, despite his longing for her (and her good cooking :p) he helps her do things ie: choosing a bath salt to make her smell delicious. Oh, this was sad; that Jesse would go insane thinking how Charles is holding ‘heaven’ in his arms each night, while he himself is lonely. I really appreciated that Jesse didn’t find a whore to take off the edge (I’ve read books with heroes doing such stuff, made me gag). But the truth was, of course, Charles only held Maddie through the night. Sometimes he’d fall asleep before Maddie was in bed. I understood, knowing about his situation. But, Jesse knew nothing of it. And, Maddie stayed true to Charles. As the story progressed, a kiss or two happened between Maddie and Jesse, with one scene almost at the end, where they don’t make love but holds each-other, albeit naked and wanting. I understood why Jesse said, “I want tonight, Maddie.”. Their situation was so bleak; even I was thinking where are all these leading to? How do one react in a situation like this?

But, I’ll come to that point soon. Jesse gets badly hurt in an accident cause by a childish prank and Jesse’s own stupidity. He showed Aaron where his gun is, which Aaron, stole from his trunk and was trying to play ‘the Ranger’. Maddie took care of him, which showed that she had good knowledge in medical stuff as well as handling blood. A scared Aaron turns to Maddie, calling her ‘ma’ for the first time. Jesse gets well soon. Then he and Charles learn that Maddie had been talking to a man from Aaron. Maddie was angry thinking Jesse sent Aaron to spy on her. Maybe Jesse did. It was said throughout the story that Jesse always “thinks things to death”. Charles even made fun of it once or twice. Maddie says nothing to Jesse, despite of his assurances. And, while they were in town, Maddie sees some wanted pictures and pales visibly. Jesse becomes more suspicious (the ranger in him) that despite her being nice and all, she might be hiding something. By then, with some clues, I had some guesses about Maddie’s past, too.

Another bunch of guests arrive; one of them, a man named Paul Somner, introduces himself to Maddie as a detective. Maddie becomes really scared. Jesse threatens Somner not to try anything that might hurt Maddie. Somner tells him he’s found what he came here for and that Jesse and the family will soon get a ‘surprise’. In the meantime, the family has some good times together in the inn and in the town. They adopt a puppy (actually Aaron does) and names it Ranger (again, Aaron, that boy just worships his Uncle Jesse). In a dancing party, thrown by a man in the town, Charles fells sick again and faints. Maddie is really angry about it. But Jesse later tells her the truth. Maddie is in denial but accepts that Charles might not have much time left. Soon Maddie finds out that Jesse does ALL the work for the inn and now knows why. He tells her about their financial problems because of more people using trains and less traveling by stage coaches. Jesse decides he’d take up as a bounty hunter, no matter how much he detests the job. He’ll take up some good ones and return soon with the money to buy cattle.

While Jesse was in Austin, the man Maddie has been talking to returns. It’s revealed that Maddie’s dad was a coach robber, which is how he and her brother died, in a shootout with the Rangers. When she’d get angry, Jesse always detected a slight British accent in Maddie’s speech, which she tried hard to hide. Now, it’s also known that her father was the famous Highwayman because of the way he robbed the coach, in a very English style. That man, Silas with another surviving member of the gang kidnaps Maddie because she lied about the last stash of money they robbed. Charles tries to help but he was gaged and bound. And, soon he loses consciousness as another of his spells hit him. Oh, the poor guy. But fortunately Jesse returns soon, learning the same things about Maddie. He’s the one who tracks them down and rescues Maddie. He takes them to Austin, hands over the criminals and brings Maddie back home. It’s before they get home is where Jesse asks that ‘one night’ from her and tells her he loves her. Maddie never replies, which I though was pretty sad but liked her more for keeping her marriage vows. When they come back home, Jesse tells them he doesn’t have to go back because the reward money was more than enough for them to buy cattle.

In the later part of the book, Somner comes back, with him his wife. Oh my, I wasn’t really expecting this but it’s Cassie, their long lost sister! Somner did deliver some surprise to them! Cassie and Somner stay with them for a while. Charles grew very ill and everyone knew it’ll be anytime. Meantime, they have some good times with the family and Cassie, Somner. The cattle arrive soon. Then, one day, Charles decides that he’d like to fly kite; the whole family takes part in it, making the kite and so on. It was very apparent, how sick Charles was and how the family worked together to make his last days happy. I cried for the most of these last few chapters, knowing we’d have to say goodbye to him. Maddie, who now knew she really cares for Charles but its Jesse to whom her heart belongs to. I liked one thing; Jesse was still drawing baths for Maddie at night, thinking it’d make Charles happy while he spend the entire time by the side of a nearby creek so that he doesn’t have to think about... oh, well I think you get the picture. It was really really heart breaking, this situation.

The day they fly kites is the day Charles passes away. But, before that he tells Jesse the truth of their marriage. He’s buried alongside his beloved wife. In the end, his letter to Cassie explains a lot of things and how he loved leaving some ‘parting gifts’ for the people he loved and cherished. He mentioned he’d love to see Maddie and Jesse get married ASAP and not mourn for him too long. He always wanted Maddie to care for his children and if possible, a little for Jesse. But, by the time he passed away, he knew he’d more than succeeded. Charles was never impotent, as Jesse tells Maddie later on but he wanted Maddie to have her first time with a man she loves, so he lied. I loved the last chapter, really did. Love scenes were sweet and a baby girl afterwards... Ah, 4 stars. Very emotional read with very lovable characters in it.


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