Plagued by horrific battlefield nightmares, York Bradburn has hidden in the Ozarks for five years, making moonshine and secretly watching Esther Woodson.

When Esther falls down a ravine, York is forced to emerge. In Esther, he finds a friend who has also suffered. Her overbearing mother is the minister of the local church and exploits her power and is in cahoots with the sheriff, whose evil presence overshadows everything. Though Esther has succeeded at raising hound dogs, she's still an outcast. She's an unmarried mother and she befriended the infamous James brothers.

While York and Esther explore their mutual feelings, Jesse James arrives and forces them into a shotgun marriage.

Esther decides to use her newfound strength to get her daughter back from her self-righteous mother. York is jailed on trumped-up charges and when he tries to contact his estranged family, his father disavows him. Every day presents additional problems to the already overburdened lovers, but they forge onward. An incident on Christmas infuses York with the courage to resume living again and to find a way to bring Esther the happiness she deserves.

Veteran writer Davis intertwines her lovers' tale with the James brothers' exploits, keeping readers on their toes in her romance novel debut. You keep hoping for good things to happen to the lovers who have despaired long enough. A few inconsistencies in time and era may throw readers off, but the warmth of the story makes this a pleasant read. SENSUAL (Oct., 415 pp., $4.99)

Reviewed by: 
Frances L. Trainor