Endlessly repetitive dialogue and a distinct lack of bedroom action weaken what could have been another compelling entry in the Hell’s Eight series. The hero’s ambivalence about the heroine, Maddie, and her constant denigration of herself — and I do mean constant — make this pair difficult to pull for. Readers should also be warned: There is not one, but two, chilling scenes where Maddie is almost raped by outlaws. Unfortunately, it’s tough to feel more than pity for the poor woman. It’s too bad, as McCarty has a real knack for capturing the ruggedness of the era.
Caden Miller’s fellow gunslingers on the Hell’s Eight ranch have all settled down with wives and families. His wandering soul is feeling an itch to hit the road and salvage a gold mine in Kansas territory. But Maddie O’Hare, who was born and raised in a brothel before coming to Hell’s Eight, has come to care for Caden, and she’s convinced by her friend Bella that she shouldn’t give him up without a fight. She follows him and ends up held against her will on the nearby Fallen C ranch — and the only way the ranch’s wily owner will release her is if Caden agrees to marry Maddie. After their shotgun wedding, Maddie has to learn to let go of her past and convince Caden she’s worth settling down for. (HQN, Dec., 347 pp., $7.99)