I really, really enjoyed this book. It doesn't get five stars because it's not perfect, but it's really, really good. It's set in the Yukon of the Klondike Gold Rush, which is an unusual choice in a historical, in my experience (the glittering Regency being much more in the common way). And the setting is so real, so palpable, it's as much a character in the story as any of the people. I had the set and costumes from McCabe and Mrs. Miller in mind as I read, and I learned a lot about the that time and place, with its lack of horses and streets so muddy that whatever dray animals could be employed pulled sleds rather than wheeled conveyances, its lack of dairy cows and the price a man could get for any of the luxury goods he was stalwart and persistent enough to transport from down south to sell to the miners and anyone else up there.
I enjoyed reading about Melissa, and I rooted for her, "though at times she was Snow White whistle-while-you-work perfect." Her work ethic and indefatigability made me feel tired on her behalf, and guilty for being grateful I'd never had to do so much grimy laundry by hand while looking after a baby and cooking and keeping house. (Heck, I'm not so sure I'd be able to swing that even with mod cons. I am so lazy.)
Melissa is thrust into very close quarters and an awkward relationship with Dylan, to settle her ne'er-do-well husband's debt, and although it's an odd premise, Harrington makes it work. In spite of Dylan's assurances that he will never attempt to claim husbandly rights, Melissa is terrified of Dylan to start with, but determined to earn her keep - and a living - so she and her baby will never have to be dependent on a man again. Just as Melissa has been scarred by a history of bad men, Dylan has his own emotional scars. They both cling to these flawed perceptions of the opposite sex a little longer than I thought strictly necessary, given the way the relationship develops, and although they eventually get very talky about things, I began to be frustrated that neither one of them had developed the courage to declare their feelings to the other. Until one of them does, of course. Which then brings the story to an end, shazam, so that's probably why it didn't happen sooner.
There are some wonderful scenes in this, and I don't just mean the sex (oh look, is that a spoiler?). Rafe Dubois is a wonderful secondary character, and he has some terrific, very telling exchanges with Dylan. Melissa's husband, her father and brothers, are all cut from the same filthy, inferior cloth, and they all emanate an undercurrent of pettiness and menace that create a gut-level uneasiness that raises alertness and adrenaline levels in the protagonist and the reader.
I'm planning to look more into Harrington's backlist. Because, you know. Never enough books.
(reviewed 9 months after purchase)