Autumn Lover by Elizabeth Lowell
Autumn Lover was one of the first romance novels I read back in High School and it maintained a special place in my memory for reasons that I am finding so difficult to fathom as I go back and reread it. The story is of Elyssa Sutton, the owner a Nevada ranch that is under constant threat from the deadly Culpepper gang and Hunter Maxwell, an ex-Confederate soldier, who has spent the last few years hunting Culpeppers since they slaughtered his children. Elyssa, known as Sassy, a nickname she hates, hires Hunter to be her foreman and the two of them get along worse then Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. Literally- the two hate each other; he constantly calls her a slut and she hates him for doing so. Of course Hunter is scarred, his two children were murdered, and his wife was apparently the town whore so he assumes all woman are the same.
To make matters worse it appears as though Elyssa's "Uncle" Bill, whom Hunter assumes Elyssa is sleeping with, is aiding the Culpeppers and the gang is making repeated and escalating attacks on Elyssa's Ranch. Her horses are let loose, the ground is salted right before a rain storm, and then full out gunshots are aimed at Elyssa. Hunter continues to belittle Elyssa until he finds out she is a virgin (guess how), but when he "asks" her to marry him she refuses and he becomes dedicated to proving to her that she should marry him. His brother comes along to join in the Culpepper butt kicking and the culmination involves a lengthy siege and the discovery that Bill is not a bad guy.
Notice how I mentioned the animosity that existed between these two characters? That's because that was pretty much all I could detect of actual emotion for the first 200 pages of the book. It was amazing that this could be termed a romance novel at all. I can not for the life of me figure out what attracted Elyssa to Hunter at all. He's apparently physically attractive to her, but surely after a month of listening to him berate you and claim you're leading on the man who tries to rape you (seriously), surely that begins to not matter so much. And in the first sex scene between the two it would be possible to call the act rape- it's not black and white, but it's enough to make one a little nauseous. The buildup to the sex was good- i.e. the smaller "kiss-y" scenes, but the maybe rape was not a good culmination and the long-drawn out sex scene (liberally sprinkled with the word fire to play on the title) didn't make up for it.
On the whole I don't really happen to enjoy rancher romances, I much prefer regency books, but at least the author seems knowledgeable about the ranching way of life in the Post-Civil War era. The fighting between Elyssa's ranch and the Culpepper's was very exciting and probably some of the better parts of the book. The only other thing I can think of to count as a positive for this book is the angst that ensues because a)Elyssa loves Hunter, but he doesn' t love her b)Elyssa thinks Hunter only wants to marry her because they've had sex (a romance novel staple) and c)Hunter thinks Elyssa no longer loves him. But the book does set up the sequel "Winter Fire" featuring Hunter's brother Case, rather nicely. Although I don't remember liking that book quite as much as this one, the characters were never outright nasty to each other.
Rating: I remember liking this book so much, but the way Hunter treated Elyssa means I can't give it more than 2 Hearts.