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Texas Splendor by Lorraine Heath

Monday, July 25, 2011

Texas Splendor
Texas Trilogy #3

Lorraine Heath
Historical Romance/Western
Published in 1999

H/h - Austin Leigh/Lorena Grant
Setting: Texas, 1886.

Read in July, 2011.
My rating:

                                                                [spoiler alert]

Hmm, I can’t decide what to REALLY write about this book. I liked it, liked a lot of things about it but I was sorely disappointed as well. Maybe I expected a bit too much because I so liked Austin in the first two books, was really looking forward to his book. But, *sigh*

Austin is really easy to love; I didn’t doubt it for one moment. And, he stayed that way all through the book. When he was released from the prison, he seemed changed in a lot of ways but I think the inherent ‘goodness’ of his soul wasn’t killed. After getting out, knowing about Becky’s betrayal was a knife through his heart. His family never informed him that Becky, to save whose reputation he served the sentenced for a murder he never committed, married his best friend Cameron 3 yrs ago. Austin doesn’t know what to do, how to deal with it. I thought he was way TOO NICE about handling the situation as he just gave Cameron a few punches. Later when he goes to see him again regarding Boyd's murder, Becky was quite rude to him. Left me thinking, really, how could she? I absolutely loved Austin’s homecoming; adored seeing Houston (got 4 daughters, another on the way) and Dallas’s family, Amelia and Dee, his nieces all over the place, Rawley, the brothers together ... everything. Austin was a bit overwhelmed with all the change around him and he feels lost. Afterwards, seeing how the townspeople still labeling him as a murderer, Austin had only one thought in his mind, to find out the killer and claim his good name back. He had this new thought, what if Boyd wrote ‘Austin’ as the town and not his name? In the meantime, Duncan attacks him and injures him on the back.

So, Austin was on his way to ‘Austin’ (I know, gets a bit confused lolz) to see if he can figure out anything. But his tracking skill is only limited to tracking cow chips, learned an early age from Dallas. He has no idea how to go about. On the way, close to the town, he comes to this place in the middle of a wooded, secluded area where he sees this boy with a dog. Austin asks for food in exchange of some handy labor. The boy seems wary of him and takes his gun and knife from him, while holding a rifle at him. Austin relents and tries to work even with the pain in his back, he knew the gash from the knife wound must be festering. He asks the boy where his family is, and learns they’re ‘in the back’. When the wood chopping was done, he sits to eat while the boy brings him food. As he moved to take the bowl, he sees the ‘boy’ has long pale, braided hair! And, that’s how we met the heroine Loree. Austin was amazed at how he confused the girl as a boy. It really irritates me sometimes if the heroine is so lacking in obvious womanly shape that if she wears shirt and britches, she looks like a man! Bleh! Anyway, they talk and it’s obvious she is alone and doesn’t really trust anyone. Austin asks to stay the night in the abandoned barn near the house and is granted the permission.

Loree lives alone, without a family or friend nearby. When this handsome stranger comes to her door, she doesn’t trust him yet can’t help but feel for him. Her past and the brutal murder of her family left a scar in her soul, and there is a secret she’s keeping for which she lives this life of a hermit. Her only visitor is a boy named DeWayne, her deceased brother’s good friend. As the night gives into heavy rainfall, Loree is very irritable to find that she’s worried about her unwanted visitor as the barn is totally non-habitable. Albeit unwillingly, Loree goes to the barn look in on him and finds him shaking with a fever. Austin tells her about the injury and she takes him inside the house, takes care of the problem and lets him sleep in her bed. And, this is how their ‘friendship’ begins. Austin is there for a few days, recuperating and doing little chores for her in exchange of his food and keep. Loree’s dog, Digger, who’s usually wary about strangers, makes friends with him too. I had lots of questions about Loree’s lifestyle, first of all was how can she live here all alone, where her family was murdered and she watched them being murdered? Is that at all possible? Isn’t she scared? I got goose bumps reading about the murder and the fact that they’re buried in the backyard, which is why she told Austin they’re ‘in the back’. She does all the chore of the house herself. I was also curious as to how she gets her food and other materials since she said she doesn’t visit the town of Austin anymore. Later on, I figured it must be DeWayne, who still keeps an eye on her. Austin at first, didn’t know anything but wonders why is she so alone or why is the barn abandoned while the little livestock she has are mostly outside. In the meantime, their relationship grows; they started trusting each-other and little things about themselves. Austin learns that Loree is too fond of sugar and takes lots and lots of it with coffee and so on. I couldn’t believe the amount, oh lord, does anyone really take so much sugar in his/her coffee and not get ill? She is thin as a stick and doesn’t think she’s beautiful. But Austin finds her very sweet and it comes back, over and over again in the story as Austin starts calling her ‘sugar’ (which was too cute for words IMO).

DeWayne pays a visit a few days later, which is how Austin finds out about her family. I wasn’t sure what to think of it and kept thinking about what she has really done. Lorraine Heath really caught my attention about Loree’s past. Some information fall into pieces and Austin knows why she just hates the barn. Loree tells him a little about her family and that she wants to burn the burn. Austin starts on it, thinking it’ll be as a pay back for at least some of the things she’d done for him so far. And then, Digger gets killed in a fight with a bobcat. Loree is almost hysteric seeing all the blood. When Austin returns burying Digger, he finds her in her room, naked from waist up and muttering  “I can't get his blood off”, although there wasn’t any blood left on her. Austin helps her get ‘cleaned’ and then, they sought comfort each-others arms by making love which ends in a bit of a disaster as Austin says Becky’s name. Loree is hurt; of course she’s supposed to be hurt but she thought: well, he doesn’t love me, what happens between us was nothing really, so no point in taking umbrage in it. But, she’s still hurt. Austin feels guilty too. I was supposed to be really pissed but somehow I wasn’t, I knew what Austin did was clumsy but I also knew he didn’t do it intentionally. His love for Becky was still apparent but I really wished he’d let her go. He’s already told Loree about his prison sentence but not the details of it. In his feverish state, he talked about Becky too, so Loree knew who she was. Austin tells her he can’t give her a future since ‘the future’ is quite blank for him at the moment. Later he decides to leave for ‘Austin’.

At this point, I wasn’t still feeling the book and Loree/Austin’s relationship. Sadly, although they had this ‘nice friendship’-kind of thing going on, I didn’t really feel any attraction or sexual tension between the two, despite their lovemaking. Even with the low heat level in this series, first two books had convincing attraction/yearning between the h/h. In this one, I just didn’t feel it at all, not even on the last page. What kept me going was the way Lorraine Heath’s narration with the mention and interaction of the whole Leigh family in the book. Back to the story, Austin reaches the town and finds out the detective Wylan, whom Dallas has hired a long time back, to work on his case. He waits there with the guy but to no avail; they couldn’t find any additional information. Austin is pretty deflated thinking it wouldn’t work after all, 5 yrs is a long time. But, he can’t forget Loree so he goes back there couple of times, takes her on a picnic and to visit the place where he was born. I liked this scene; the way he paid respect to his mother’s grave (more on it was on the 1st two books) and seeing Loree, who goes bare footed in her home, having trouble walking in shoes, how Austin takes her foot on his thigh and rubs them. This part became my favorite thing about them throughout the book. He even buys her a new puppy, naming it Two-bits himself. But, nothing else happens between them.

Loree feels lost without Austin too; she kept thinking of his beautiful, innocent-looking blue eyes and his long fingers. Loree knows a few things about music herself so seeing his hands she thought Austin could be a great violinist. A few more days later, Loree finds out she’s pregnant and sends Austin a note. He comes running, telling her he’d do the right thing and proposes her. Loree doesn’t agree at first but when Austin reasons about the baby, she agrees on one condition; if he’s thinking of Becky, he can’t make love to her. I mean, really, I get the emotion behind it but hell, it went on for TOO LONG for my liking. And, still I couldn’t feel any attraction between them. So they marry and ride back home to Leighton. Dallas acts like an a$$ at first hearing about the baby but soon resolves his attitude. The others in the family take Loree in with open arms. Man, I have to say it again, how much I loved this family, wished to be a part of it and how much I’m gonna miss them. It made me incredibly sad that this is the last book of the series.

Things go on quite well but Loree is sometimes scared that Austin would find out about her ‘past’. She also meets Becky in an incident in her shop and instantly feels vulnerable, thinking Becky’s so beautiful while she’s not. I wish this part of Becky and Cameron didn’t come back over and over again in the story. It should’ve been regarded as ‘let bygones be bygones’ (read: ignore them) but hell, they did. I guess because they lived in the same town and known each-other for such a long time, it couldn’t be avoided. In between, Austin tries to make love to Loree once but the mention of her promise ruins it for him. Later, she thinks she might not have made him such a promise after all. I was mostly rooting for the family, to read about them; especially the kids, all the girls and Rawley. I liked it when Amelia again had another girl and the brothers make fun of it. Then the family, together give balls and attend the theater. Rawley tells Austin that it’d be great if his is a boy since they are outnumbered by women in the family. Cute!

Becky and Cameron come back in the story again, in the ball, as Becky learns the woman whom she met in her shop is actually Austin’s wife. I liked the way Austin was in that scene, when Becky asked him how he’s doing, he answered “Wiser”. Also, on the Christmas as the kids wanted their ‘Uncle Cameron’ here. Austin does that for them, after making sure it won’t hurt Loree. I found it difficult to believe, considering the time frame, that how cool Becky appeared after her and Austin’s shared past; they slept together for God’s sake, doesn’t matter that it was their first time, that it was 5 yrs ago or that they were young or even the fact that she’d married his best friend. She didn’t seem uneasy talking about it/at the mention of it when Boyd’s murder would come up. In the end, it was glossed over by making it look like Becky and Austin’s was a young love that didn’t survive the time apart. That Cameron loved her all along so when his and Becky’s father died, they both turned to each-other for comfort. In the process, she became pregnant and they had to marry. Austin also turned to Becky for comfort after Dallas’s accident. So, where does it leave me? I’m confused. As a result, throughout the story I couldn’t help but feel that Austin let it go too easily, being too nice, going as far as threaten Cameron if he makes Becky unhappy, he’ll have to answer to him. WHY Austin? I felt awkward every time these two are there in the story with Loree and Austin. Loree wouldn’t let go at first; she was angry that Becky broke Austin’s heart (which I thought was really commendable of her) and tells him that, too but because of Austin, later she had to.

I hoped to see this ‘promise’ thing resolved sooner but it didn’t. Loree steps into her advanced pregnancy. In the meantime, someone tries to hurt Austin again so Loree is concerned. She’s hovering between if to tell him everything or not. She’s scared of Austin’s reaction. Loree’s been trying to make Austin learn to play violin, not knowing that Austin already knows how to. Cameron mentions it (not knowing of course) and Loree is angry. I was like, why? You’re not angry at seeing his past love(r) at every turn but you’re angry because he didn’t tell you he plays violin?! This was probably the first scene I saw some yearning, at least from Austin. I have to quote it:

The melody drifted into an aching silence. Austin lifted his head, and she saw his tears, trailing along his cheeks, glistening in the moonlight.

 She slipped from beneath the blankets, her bare feet hitting the cold floor. "What were you playing?" she asked reverently, not wanting to disturb the ambiance that remained in the room.

 "That was my heart breaking," he said, his voice ragged.

 She felt as though her own heart might shatter as she took a step toward him. "Austin—"

 "Don't stop loving me, Loree. You want me to learn what those little black bugs on those pieces of paper mean, I'll learn. You want me to play the violin from dawn until dusk, hell, I'll play till midnight, just don't stop loving me."

 She flung her arms around his neck and felt his arms come around her back, the violin tapping against her backside. "Oh, Austin, I couldn't stop loving you if I wanted."

 "I do know how to love, Loree. I just don't know how to keep a woman loving me."

 "I'll always love you, Austin," she said trailing kisses over his face. "Always."

 She felt a slight movement away from her as he set the violin aside, and then his arms came around her, tighter than before. "Let me love you, Loree. I need to love you."

And, they make love for first time since they’re married. Afterwards, he tells her some beautiful things:

He rolled her over, rising above her, cupping her cheek. "I wasn't lying, Loree. I've always heard the music in my heart but I lost the ability to do that when I went to prison. It was like the music just shriveled up and died. I thought I'd never hear it again. How could I play the violin if I couldn't hear the music? Then lately, I started going crazy because I'd hear snatches of music—when you'd look at me or smile at me. But I couldn't grab onto it, I couldn't hold it. Then last night, you told me that you loved me and I heard the music, so sweet, so soft. It scared me to hear it so clearly after I hadn't for so long.

 "Tonight, I hurt you—again. I was going to let you go, Loree. I was gonna take you back to Austin. But I heard my heart break and I knew that's all I'd hear for the rest of my life. Don't leave me, Sugar."

 Joy filled her and she brushed the locks of hair back off his brow. "I won't.".

See how Austin calls her ‘sugar’? So sweet! And the line “You should hear the music.” made me fuzzy every time he’d say it to express his feeling for her. *sigh*

Though things improved between them quite a bit, still Loree felt like a kid to me (no idea why) whom Austin is trying to pamper and so on. Loree even tries to teach Austin the ‘little black bugs’ on the music sheet that she’d given him for as a Christmas present. Loree is amazed to know that Austin learned to play without knowing the music notes. It’s pretty obvious from his story on how he learned that Austin’s a genius. A few months pass by and Loree has the baby, a son, whom they named Grant, after Loree’s family. Austin is very happy, so is everyone else in the family. But, soon Becky comes to see Grant and slips the fact that Austin was imprisoned as Boyd McQueen’s murderer. I already had my hunch about what Loree did and it was confirmed. Loree, so far, didn’t know the man’s name; she thought Austin acted in self-defense. Now, knowing the impact of the truth, she’s totally lost.

Soon, they attend an orchestra. Loree was being distant from Austin, which made him quite insane, not knowing why. But, he manages to convince her to attend with him (a very very cute demonstration with his violin, loved it). As they’re listening to it, Austin realizes he’d found his dream. He knew it was inside him but until now he didn’t know if he wanted to grab it. So he tells Loree about his wish to become a part of the orchestra. Loree’s pretty sure Austin would be selected but when he isn’t, she decides to confess (I couldn’t quite believe her story). She couldn’t look at the sadness caused by a ruined dream on Austin’s face, though he tried to smart it, making it look like it’s nothing. Learning the truth, Austin tries to figure out what to do. He’s thinking fast and goes to Dallas that night. Man, that was a funny scene, as Dee and Dallas were about to... ermm and Austin barges in. I mean, what’s wrong with these men? First Houston, now Austin? Poor Dallas! Anyway, Austin knows he loves Loree, so does she so somehow he has to save her. But the next day, she goes to the sheriff and confesses, making it difficult for Dallas and Austin to save her… One thing, in the end, I didn’t really appreciate Austin taking her to the waterfalls where he took Becky all those years ago and trying to reason with her about his past with Becky. Not really Austin. I’d rather you ignored her.

Anyway, I’d like to talk about the epilogue which takes place 11 years afterwards. Austin was now a famous violinist and toured the world with Loree by his side. They have 5 sons, youngest is 2 yrs old. They’ve just arrived in Leighton, marveling at the changes and so on. I really loved it and felt so completely wistful that the series is ending. Almost all the characters were mentioned. It was good to see how their lives have changed, how the kids grew up. It ended with some loose ends as well, about Rawley and who he might end up with. I didn’t think it’d be Faith (Dallas’s daughter) because they’ve always acted as brother and sister. The way it ended, I’m not sure though. Could he think of her as something else? Since Lorraine Heath didn’t continue with the series and there’s no mention of it in her website, guessing we won’t be reading Rawley’s story. I wish it was otherwise. I would’ve loved to read about him and see more of the Leigh brothers too. 3.75 stars because it was worth a read. *sigh*


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I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. My blog Punya Reviews just turned 6 in 2017 and still going strong. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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