Elise Laffont is only 25 years old, yet she is already a widow - and perfectly happy to be one! All of the bachelors around Fort Rosalie, and there are many as it is a military post, are positive that she cannot make her small holding in Louisiana Territory profitable without a man by her side. Yet Elise has nothing but disgust for men, her brutal husband having done nothing but hurt her, mock her and cause her trouble. Elise was proud of her small farm and had made a modest success, but she lost it all one morning when the Natchez attached Fort Rosalie and the outlying areas, killing or enslaving all of the French. Elise managed to escape into the forest and find a small group of survivors, but they knew they could not make it out of Natchez territory without being caught. When Reynaud Chavalier, a half-French, half-Natchez warrior, finds them, he offers to take them to Fort Natchitoches - if Elise will warm his bed at night. Nothing could be worse for Elise, yet the other French insist that they will not survive without him and Elise is forced to comply.
Elise is determined to think Reynaud no better than her brute of a husband, yet when Reynaud sees the fear and panic in her eyes when he reaches for her that night, he is determined to make her want him as a woman. He insists that Elise touch him and pleasure herself. Elise uses these opportunities to tease Reynaud, but she slowly comes to trust him and to believe that all men are not like her dead husband. When they come to Reynaud's plantation, she is content to stay there, making love to Reynaud and living in a kind of paradise, untouched by the outside. However, this time of peace cannot last, for the French are coming to kill the Natchez for their uprising.
When members of the Natchez tribe come to ask Reynaud, known as Hawk of the Night to them, to become the new war chief, Reynaud feels that he has a duty to his people to go, even though he fears that they will lose. At first Reynaud was going to let Elise continue on to the fort, but he finds that he cannot let her go. Elise does not go willingly, but has no chance to make a successful escape with all of the warriors watching her every move. She determines to make the best of it in the Natchez camp and befriends some of the Natchez women and offers what comfort she can to the French captives there. As Elise spends more time among the Natchez, she comes to see them for the people that they are - just like the French, full of strengths and weaknesses, cultural customs and taboos. She knows that she is in love with Reynaud, but what kind of future do they have with the French attacking the tribe from all sides?
This was a very enjoyable romance that also had quite a bit of historical background to it (some of it fictionalized, of course). I liked Elise as a character, she was afraid, yet determined to be courageous and not afraid to change or to adapt to new situations. Reynaud was a gorgeous hero, tormented by not belonging to either people whose blood pulsed through his veins and not sure whose side he was really on. The supporting characters were also quite well developed and fun to get to know: Little Quail, the Natchez woman who befriended Elise and taught her the Natchez way of life, Pierre Broussard, Reynaud's trader friend who fell in love with Little Quail when he was a little boy, the Great Sun, Reynaud's twin brother who ruled the Natchez like a god, Tattooed Arm, Reynaud's mother who fell in love with a French man and bore him two sons, and many, many more. This is a tale full of love and tragedy and the relationships between the characters were very strong. Jennifer Blake really made the time period come alive and the pages just flew by. My only complaint is that Elise's feelings seemed to switch rather abruptly and Elise and Reynaud seemed to have the same doubts and arguments throughout the book without ever really finding any solutions or reconciling. Still, I think that most readers who are fans of historical romance will enjoy this book.
This report prepared by Debbie