The Woodbyne family might be a very old and distinguished one, but in 1812 they are very poor indeed and younger son Laurence (Laurie) gets the short stick and must marry the daughter of a wealthy lower class merchant. Esmeralda might not be the love of his life, but she sure is passionate in bed – that is until she’s in the family way and locks him out of her room. After the happy event Esme’s lack of interest in the marital bed sends him on the hunt for her lover, and boy does he get a bigger surprise than he ever bargained for (it’s a whopper!). Daddy dearest decides it’s best for all concerned if Laurie takes a position at one of his fur trading posts in what is now western British Columbia – the land beyond the shining mountains.
The story then switches focus to that of Rowan Malone, whose father is white and her mother a Chilcotin Indian. Raised by the Catholic church after her father’s death, she is reeling from a brutal attack by three drunken young men and decides to seek her mother’s people. She travels west in the care of an elderly priest, but when his health fails the beauteous Rowan is at the mercy of the savage voyageurs – will Laurie hear her screams for help and save her in the nick of time?
Rowan finds her life at Fort Purline off to a difficult start as some see her as nothing more than an Indian female to be used at will, and those lusty voyageurs are ready to lap her up like a cat with cream. Laurie steps in as her protector, but Rowan still carries a lot of emotional baggage from her previous attacks – is he the one who can heal them and make her whole again? What follows is the story of their relationship including the difficulties of her parentage and the inherent prejudices that come with it. There’s also the complication of George Durran who loves her from afar and can’t forget the fate his aging grandmother had once foretold for him, that of a woman, two men who loved her and a choice that would lead to one road or the other. And oh, what a choice that was *sniff*
Yep, there’s a lot more to it than that but I’ll leave that for you to read and find out. This really isn’t an action packed cowboys and indians western kind of book, but more character driven dealing with life inside the fort, the hardships they faced and the people who lived there and their relationships with others.
The local Indian population is very much a part of that, but be warned this novel was written in 1979 before we became so dreadfully PC at all times and felt the need to sugar coat everything. A good solid read and definitely recommended for those interested in area’s history, but do plan on having a tissue or two handy at the end.