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Sweet Lullaby by Lorraine Heath

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sweet Lullaby

Lorraine Heath
Historical Romance/Western
Published in 1994

H/h - Jake Burnett/Rebecca Anderson
Setting: Texas, 1883.

Read in Nov, 2011.
My rating:

                                                                 [spoiler alert]
He was lying in bed with the woman he loved... a woman he couldn't make love to. He closed his eyes. More than anything in this world, he wanted this woman to be happy. He'd give her anything, do anything to make her happy. Even if it made his own life hell.

These are just the lines to show Jake’s incomparable devotion for Rebecca. I can only say Lorraine Heath has a very special way of portraying her heroes. Before her westerns, I read so few of those, I could count them. But, after Texas Trilogy, I haven’t looked back. Her narrative is so beautiful and uncomplicated yet so pure in it’s style that I never felt the need to drag on. From one review, I found out Sweet Lullaby was her 1st book. Was it? Seriously? I couldn’t tell. I’ve been tossed and turned, cried like a baby for Jake, been crazy mad at Rebecca and yet, when I finished, I felt this urge for the story to continue. It was that good. I can see why some would find it too depressing or be annoyed by Rebecca’s actions but either way, Sweet Lullaby won me over.

My tears started falling since the 1st scene and I mean it! This scene was a flashback of Jake’s childhood. Lord, every single narration/musing, anything... I couldn’t hold my tears back. His life as a child, been abused by his own cowardly father (and his eldest half-brother) because he couldn’t confront his own sin, was so touching. So in that scene, when I read how he was as an 8 yrs old, being kept in a hayloft and was forced to spend his Christmas night with a horse... I simply wanted to hold him. Poor thing had suffered for so long in his life; by his father, by the neighbors because his mother was a prostitute and he, a bastard, because his face was scarred from small pox and branded by the hypocrites as ‘a child of sin’... I could go on and on. Yet, Jake grew up to be a great human being. Someone worth having. Someone so worthy of love and respect. After his father died, Jake moved on and now worked as a stable hand in Lazy A. He still doesn’t know the real truth of his birth, so he’s always confused as to why would a man, who never treated him like a son, would ‘adopt’ him, abuse him throughout the years and then leave him his own ranch, disowning his two legitimate sons? But at this moment, Jake doesn’t care. He loves working here, quiet but efficiently earning his keep. And he loves Rebecca, as simple as that. Rebecca with blue eyes and dark hair. Rebecca with the smooth skin and bright smile, who loves to ride and manage the ranch as good, even better than any other man. Rebecca, who’s so beautiful that Jake knows he will never have any future with her, she being the daughter of the owner. It sounds so obnoxious even to him, the ugly bastard that he is! So Jake goes on living, worshipping her from afar, happy only to be a friend and a confidante at times. But fate had a different plan for both of them it seems and soon Jake finds a way to marry the woman he’s loved for so long. But, would she want him the way he wants her? Jake doesn’t know but he’s determined to make Rebecca happy, for as long as she’ll have him.

Rebecca never thought of Jake as anything other than a good friend. Yet, when I read on some of her musings, I felt that she was interested in him from the start (always admired his beautiful brown eyes and that endearing lopsided smile). I totally appreciated that Jake’s smallpox scars NEVER troubled her. She thought being confident about herself (and her beauty) that Jake would approach just like any other man on the ranch or around Lazy A. Soon she learned he’s not that type. He was an expert stable hand. No one could break a horse like he did. We get to learn how they met for the 1st time, while Jake was working with a horse. And it has been like that. She might’ve been interested or attracted but somehow knew it’d never be. So when 3 yrs after Jake joined Lazy A, Brett Meier came to work for them, Rebecca couldn’t look back. Brett was handsome, the bold type who took whatever he liked. He returned her fervor equally because he was the polished, experienced lover. Rebecca soon finds that out too. One night of passion led to the obvious but when she found out she’s pregnant, Brett wasn’t there to hear of it. He left just after their encounter, telling her he had some business to take care of. He never promised anything, only that he loved her. He never even said he’d return. But Rebecca was secured in her dreamy state. She even tells her father that she’s pregnant but never thought her father would flew into a rage so huge; the likes she’d never even imagined, let alone ever seeing. The man ignored her for a while, then one day announced she’s to marry because he’d not let her to make him a laughingstock of the town. She won’t at first and yet knowing her father’s chosen bridegroom, Rebecca reconsiders. There’s no news from Brett and Jake was so very sweet with his proposal; not pressuring her, asking her to take time etc. Rebecca knows marrying Jake would only help her and her baby; he/she will not be born a bastard. They were married a few days later.

Jake is very happy, though he knows Rebecca will never love him back. He’s mostly in control of his feeling, though it hurts like hell from time to time. One example was their wedding night. She was feeling awkward so Jake, very tactfully, asks her to get some sleep for the journey ahead. Her visible relief tore at his heart and yet he never pressured. He never did throughout the book because he’d promised her a lifetime of happiness. He’d also promised that they’ll make love only when she wants it, not because it’s his right. Can you tell what a polite and amazing guy Jake was? Needless to say, he kept all his promises to her and more. Now, about the journey, after her father’s treatment of her, Rebecca decided she doesn’t want to live in Lazy A anymore. Jake’s ranch in Texas would do just fine. Jake hasn’t been there for a long time but they’ll work it out together. She was looking forward to her new beginning. I couldn’t fault her you know. I kinda understood her standing. She was trying, I can tell and she really liked Jake, no doubt. Yet, she couldn’t leave Brett’s phantom behind, not when she’s pregnant with his child. So they, with a few other men who craved new beginnings too, head out to Texas amidst all the threats and screaming from Rebecca’s dad. One of the men was Frank, young man Jake knew for a while, from before he joined Lazy A. There were no details of their journey but Rebecca fell in love with Texas on the 1st sight. They head on with their lives, planning things- from their little one roomed house to the other things that concerns ranching. Yet they’d never been intimate once. Jake hadn’t even kissed her since they left Kentucky. He wants to of course, they would sleep in one bed, holding each-other (something Jake treasured, Rebecca didn’t mind too) and yet, nothing else. The above quote I mentioned was from one of those nights.

Anyway, life was good. The ranching was going well. They expected trouble from cattle owners, even then, life wasn’t bad. They had this wonderful neighboring family, the Readings who would help them out, especially Carrie, Mrs. Reading. But soon, Jake meets his half-brothers- Ethan and Zach. Ethan has always been hostile to him and from whatever I read, hostile is a mild word to describe that. I couldn’t, for once, forget how Jake was treated when his father took him in. The little boy had a dream, knowing he’s going with his father. Jake always loved his mother, who loved him the same. She didn’t sound like any usual prostitute. She took care of him when he had smallpox. She was the only one who ever fussed over him and even that ended with her death. So he thought he’d have a family. But his hopes crashed when the man, who he thought was his father, took him in the barn on their arrival and beat him mercilessly. He was ordered to call them all ‘sir’. It was so horrible that every time I read one of those incidents (by Jake’s father or Ethan) I felt mad, SO MAD! And I cried. He did nothing, he’d get a beating. Ethan lied about him, he’d get a beating. Zach, who was the nicest of the bunch, would do some wrong and Jake got the beating. Could you tell that I wanted to bring the man back to life many a times, only to kill him again? He was a pathetic SOB who couldn’t take in the fact that he fathered a child with his innocent sister-in-law, something led her to take up a life no woman should ever live. The a-hole! The SIL came to live with her sister and this is what she got in return. The sister aka Jake’s stepmother never cared/bothered about him since it reminded her of her husband’s infidelity. Lord, how could she? No matter what, Jake was her sister’s son; he wasn’t at fault for anything and yet she never once, stopped her husband or her eldest son when they abused him. It made me speechless at times. The younger Zach tried to talk to his mother once to take care of Jake’s wound but the woman admonished him about it, asking him never to talk about Jake to her again.

In the present, they met at a country dance, thrown by Carrie and co. Ethan, as usual, tried to pick a fight and harass Jake but Zach stood his ground, held Ethan off. Afterwards, Zach wanted to rekindle whatever fragile little bond they shared and to help out in Jake’s ranch. The ever polite Jake was happy to give him a chance. In between, we saw that Rebecca growing and having little pregnancy problems. Jake handles it all because the town didn’t have a doctor. Rebecca was confident that Jake could deliver her baby, like he does the fillies. She can always depend on him. She was growing fonder of him as the day passed, even asked to share bed once but Jake denied, knowing the time wasn’t right. They had a great time though, with Zach and with young Frank’s forays in and out of love. Jake carved beautiful wooden things for Rebecca; a rocking chair, a basket for the baby and doing anything she likes to do. He understands her like no one ever did. Didn’t he promise her happiness? Rebecca was happy, just... well, of that one ‘just’ she couldn’t break free.

Then two incidents strike simultaneously. As I’ve already mentioned they were expecting to have troubles from other ranchers who won’t want competition but soon, it was proven that the only problem they might have will be coming from Ethan. That guy was so jealous that he was completely bent on destroying Jake. At first, they attack on young Frank and injure him. Jake’s other stable hands thought Zach was responsible and betrayed them. But Jake, he trusted Zach 100% and Zach never did anything to break that trust. Then, a few months later, Jake’s barn, which was put together by the neighbors, was torched and burned to the ground. Zach died saving Jake, an incident made me so sad, can’t explain. Zach deserved better because he was trying to be the elder brother he’s never been or hadn’t had the opportunity to be. He did a lot for Jake, to make a sort of amend for all those lost, troubled years. In the end, he not only earned Jake’s trust but also a place as his brother, as Jake buried Zach on his land, his grave marker announcing the truth out loud. It was Jake who broke the news to a smug Ethan, who had no idea what he’d done. But that didn’t deter the nutso to create more troubles for them later in the book. On that same night, Rebecca has her baby, a son whom Jake helped delivering. It wasn’t an easy chore, not only because Jake wasn’t an expert on delivering a human baby but also having to see Rebecca so intimately wasn’t helping his situation. But all went well. I loved that Rebecca decided to name the baby after Jake. Now, have to mention: I might sound horrible but when she had those pregnancy related complications, I wanted her to lose the baby. I thought if she could just break free of this insane obsession about the scumbag who left her pregnant, things would go so much smoother. But when Jacob was born, I regretted it with all my heart because like Rebecca, I couldn’t imagine the 2nd part of the story without him at all. He was so adorable and such a happy child, too! Everyone liked him. Jake did everything to make him happy. I expected no less of him.

After a few months, Rebecca was very much willing to take their relationship to the next level and I was glad that it wasn’t because she was feeling grateful. She realized she’s been unfair to Jake, she knew Jake deserved better. She even asked Jake many times why did he put up with her and for those reasons, I couldn’t completely dislike her. I didn’t think she was oblivious, just not matured enough to realize the level of Jake’s devotion. Later though, Rebecca had her lessons on that score. I loved the way these two came together. It made Jake tremendously happy, Rebecca too. They were enjoying their new found intimacy and it made it all the more enjoyable for me because I thought Rebecca was coming to terms with the whole situation. It was apparent that she felt something deeper for Jake now. I didn’t like it that she would still pine away sometimes for Brett, thinking what could’ve been, even to compare the two as lovers in her mind but I understood her standing. They’d make love (with a lot of enthusiasms if I might add :p ) and do things together, picnics with Jacob or going to town. Jake said ILU to her many times and it made Rebecca guilty of not being able to return it with the same passion. Jake took an Irish blacksmith and his brood of a family in, not because he needed a blacksmith but because he knew the man could do with his help. The young Frank was immediately interested in the only girl of that family, Arlene and later married her. I really loved the secondary characters in this book, all of them! LH did a lot of perspective changes, showing things from their POV as well, something I truly enjoyed.

Suddenly, as I was dreading, Brett returns. I knew there has to be some closure about this matter, even though the idea was not to my liking. I knew what was ahead but I expected Rebecca to stand by Jake’s side and bid the scumbag sayonara! She failed me so horribly here. At first, she was resigned that she’d have to live with Jake now that they’re married. Brett was so bold, he even kisses her, Jake finding them together like that. The scumbag was very confident that a man like Jake (not good looking, neither a sly charmer like himself) can never keep a beauty like Rebecca. He even bragged about it to Rebecca in one scene when I wanted to kick the hell out of him! The SOB asked her to meet him soon and he’ll take her and Jacob away to Montana, to his new ranch. Jake knew he has to let her go now. Maybe he should’ve fought a little but I knew if he did, Rebecca wouldn’t see it the way I did. She needed the lesson. So Jake filed for divorce and let her go with Brett. Now I must talk about the scumbag’s scintillating character. When Rebecca goes to his hotel room, he was already with a whore and didn’t mind at all that Rebecca saw her, naked, in his bed. Actually, he threw the whore out and then was jumping on Rebecca. I was seriously disgusted, thinking what’s wrong with her? Is she going to let him have sex on the same bed? Hell yuk! Thankfully she didn’t. Then, when they are in Montana, Brett wants to have sex; you know he has ‘urges’ (as in, can’t keep his trousers on when there is a whore in sight) which needs to be met! Rebecca was waiting for the divorce to be finalized so she declined. That SOB actually went out, in front of her to find a whore, informing her of that and telling her not to wait up for him. And Rebecca wasn’t angry or jealous? WOW! I WAS SO MAD!! But, you know what, I got later that she was missing Jake terribly and I was rather glad that she felt nothing so strong for the scumbag. I was also glad that now she realized the level of her mistake. Brett would grab and try to kiss her, tell her many times he loves her but it wasn’t love, not as much as staking claim on something he ‘possessed’. But Jake? Oh his was slow burn… all the way in. Brett never took any active liking to his son yet he wanted Rebecca to change his name, just to put everything that happened in Texas behind. Yes, he couldn’t stand Rebecca talking about Jake. Now Rebecca could compare how Jake treated her knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child and how Brett wants to mold her into something she is not. There was no way she could forget Jake. Then the finalized divorce papers arrive. While looking through them, Rebecca found a heart breaking note from Jake. I was crying and crying, just reading the despair and resignation there. How he tried to hide his feelings with every endearments he penned through. Rebecca couldn’t take it anymore, there’s no denying she loves him too. So she decides that day to return to Jake.

Jake, meanwhile, was living a listless life. There was no meaning of anything around him anymore. He was just going through a motion. Lord, it broke my heart just to think of the pain he was going through. He even tried to have sex with a prostitute but the experience left him emptier than before. Even the jaded prostitute softened towards him, thinking who might’ve caused the hurt in those ever polite, beautiful eyes. One day, Ethan finds him when he was alone, beat him and left him to die. Jake’s final thought before he lost consciousness was of Rebecca and how he’d like to hold her in his arms. The day they found him, Rebecca returns. She panicked like never before when she had a glimpse of Jake’s wounds. As the fever took him over, she was praying with all her heart; was she late? Did she come back only to lose him again? It wasn’t much of a trouble to leave Brett because the scumbag didn’t even put up a fight. Under Rebecca’s careful vigilance, Jake was finally healing. But this time, he keeps his distance, not knowing if she’ll hurt him again. Can you blame him? And this time, it hurts Rebecca. She now understood the measure of pain she’d inflicted on him. Thus, even though the whole situation broke my heart, I knew Rebecca needed this lesson to open her eyes. I was glad that she was groveling to him; wanting him to take her back and that she’d do everything to make him happy. Did I mention how much Jacob missed him and was squealing happily when he finally saw the ‘tall man’ his eyes sought for all these months and knew they’re home? :D

The last climax of the story, inevitably, comes from Ethan as he kidnaps Jacob to make Jake return the lands he deemed legitimately as his. Jake already knew the truth of the whole sordid tale of his birth from Zach, Ethan’s remarks as he lay dying from bullet wounds only confirmed it. There were some heart stopping moments there in the rescue but I wasn’t disappointed with how it ended. Jake did bury his eldest brother alongside Zach. In the end, Rebecca’s father comes for a visit, hoping for forgiveness. He finds his daughter healthy and happy, a mother of two now with 2 yrs old Jacob and 3 months old Zach (I wasn’t surprised by the name at all). Lord, I was smiling like a fool when Jake took Zach into his arms and was thinking how Rebecca was happy because Zach got his smile. Then again, I was simply happy to see him so happy.

Ah… how can I not give this book a perfect 5 star?

Favorite Quotes

There are many many of those. One I've already mentioned in my review. A few others:

Rebecca tilted her face up to Jake and she felt his lips brushing lightly against hers. Then his lips were beside her ear, whispering, "A lifetime of happiness, Reb, I promise."

"I almost envy your horse," she said, "because these thighs hug him all day." 

He heard a soft voice calling him and turned towards it, trying to focus the vision before him. It wasn't his mother. If he weren't so tired, he would have smiled. He hadn't expected to find an angel in Hell.

The angel, her image blurred, a whiteness surrounding her, would understand. The angel would know.

"Why couldn't she love me?" he asked. The angel's answer was garbled. He strained to understand the words, not all his senses failed him as he slipped back into the abyss on the edge of Hell.

And the angel knelt down beside the bed and wept.

 ...Closing his eyes, he saw every smile that Rebecca had ever directed his way and knew a pang of regret. He would have liked to have held her in his arms one last time before he died.



"I like it when you spend the day thinking."

He brought his head up, twinkling eyes and a mischie­vous grin gracing his countenance.

"Reb, honey, that was just what I thought about this morning. Wait until I show you what I thought about this afternoon."

 "You are the politest man I know, Jake Burnett."

"Had politeness beat into me."


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