Hardship has followed Grayson Ridge, a motherless girl named for the orphanage that took her in, from the moment she fought for her first breath. At fifteen, fearing she’s killed the man who “adopted” her as slave labor, Grayson bolts into the wilderness, where she steals clothes and cuts her hair to become River, a homeless boy on the run. Rescued from vicious vagabonds by a kinder, gentler drifter, River attaches to taciturn Drake Somerset—temporarily, she thinks, but their history has only just begun.
What follows is a story of false identities, gender bending, and impassioned—if at times confused—love; Shakespeare’s As You Like It served up romance-style. Grayson’s many personae end up in classic predicaments, some truly horrifying and many nearly fatal, and she and Drake spend a good amount of time patching up each other’s wounds. That is, when they’re not challenging, exasperating, tormenting, and misinterpreting each other. The author has a fine ear for natural, quick-witted dialogue, and it’s one of the pleasures gleaned from reading this well-crafted tale.
Ms. Groover has structured her narrative against backdrops that move effortlessly from Virginia’s plantations to the West and back again, fashioning her framework with details that are as unobtrusive as they are knowledgeable. The love story is rather refreshingly old-school: this is no thin plot on which to hang a string of bedroom romps. Instead, it is the untangling of Grayson and Drake’s many masquerades and misunderstandings that intrigue the reader, although each character’s passions are given plenty of consideration—and yes, heat.
Despite the quintessential American settings and psyches, a whiff of “Jane Eyre” blows through: the orphanage and the search for home; the young and moral woman resurrecting the heart and soul of a man who has closed himself off in tormented guilt; the themes of forgiveness and conscience over passion. What is decidedly different: the raw, almost desperate feistiness of River, the abundant humor, and the wonderful secondary character of Aggie, whose unrequited love for Drake never stops her from being Grayson’s friend and mentor.
The Inn at Little Bend won first place in Chanticleer Book Reviews’ Published Novels Romance Western-Mystery category.