Heart of Courage by Kat Martin
Heart of Courage is part of the "Heart of _____" series and this is obvious throughout the book as we are continuously hit over the head with happy couples Krista and Lief and Gray and Coralee. Our protagonists are Lindsey, the opinionated (another word for sassy?) writer and Thor, (seriously?) the uncivilized Viking and Lief's brother. The two have never gotten along well but of course sexual tension runs high. When Lindsey's brother, Rudy, is arrested for two murders, Lindsey is determined to clear his good name by conducting her own investigation, which of course leads to brothels, gambling dens, and dark alleys. Thor is appointed Lindsey's garden and it is not long before he's rescuing her from would-be rapists and discovering that her boyish figure (she is mistaken for a "lad" on several occasions by numerous people) holds more appeal than his usual voluptuous whores.
Meanwhile Rudy's case is getting more and more tragic as it becomes obvious someone is setting him up for the murder and notes begin appearing claiming that a childhood "friend" is responsible. Rudy, taking the cake for Too Stupid To Live, continues to go out and carouse with his dissolute gambling buddies, despite being under suspicion. As more people disappear and the clues lead them further to a suspect, as of course the police refuse to look past Rudy, Thor and Lindsey begin an affair. Thor tries to end the affair with Lindsey, convinced that he is not good enough for her and/ or that his large baby will kill her when she gives birth, and yet is horrified when Lindsey's parents try to marry her off to "eligible" men. No one should be surprised to learn that the book ends with a kidnapping and our hero riding to the rescue to save the day.
There are some seriously weird side-ish plots in this book. There are forged/ stolen stock papers that are retrieved, yet nothing is done about the other people who may have been targeted by the unscrupulous lawyer. And weirdest of all is a horse race Lindsey participates in in order to save the horses life and win the horse for Thor. Both of them were tied into the plot but far too much was made of them, especially in a book that already ran 40 pages over the requisite 370 (and in small type too). Then there is the completely horrible scene mentioned above where Thor rescues her from the would-be rapists and realizes she's beautiful naked; she is naked because the would-be rapists have ripped off her clothes and she is huddled in a corner in terror. That is not sexy.
The other weird scene is what I imagine the author means to be a turning point in the book where Thor goes from an overbearing meathead to an enlightened lover of feminism. Thor spanks Lindsey for going out without him (admittedly that was dumb after what happened last time she had gone out without him) and she berates him and agrees it was wrong of him and it won't happen again. But my opinion is still up for grabs on that one. The angst is in short supply but it is done well as Lindsey and Thor each battle their feelings for each other- Thor believing he's not good enough for Lindsey and Lindsey believing Thor is more into whores than her. The sex is hot, but the author seems to go for quantity over quality as the middle and end are littered with short little sex scenes. As with the last book the two characters seem to work together only in the confines of the murder investigation which turns out to be the scene stealer in this dense murder mystery.
Rating: I didn't like the book, but it was far better than The Perfect Wife. I wish we'd had less murder investigation and more Thor and Lindsey falling in love.