Three years after giving birth following a brutal gang-rape, Lettie MacBride and her family join a wagon train for a fresh start, where she meets a man with whom she will spend the rest of her life. Lettie MacBride was raped and impregnated at the age of 15 and although she loves her son, feels that she is too damaged for any romantic relationships. After years of false assumptions about her virtue by people in their area and the devastating border wars, she and her family hope to begin anew where nobody knows about the trauma she experienced.
Luke Fontaine is also running, but he does so to avoid the scandal from his own illegitimate birth. When he meets Lettie and her son Nathan one day amongst the wagons on the trail, he is immediately interested in them both. As they get closer, her father and eventually Lettie herself, tells Luke about her rape, assuming that he will lose interest. Instead, he kisses her, reassures her that making love will be nothing like her rape and asks for her hand in marriage.
After a quick marriage, they start their lives in a tiny, abandoned cabin on the huge piece of land they have claimed. Luke was right about the joy that a healthy relationship and intimacy provides. By their second winter, they are in a bigger home. Montana is a cold, challenging environment and soon after they settle, they conceive the second of what will ultimately be six healthy children. Unfortunately, the Native Americans are not happy about losing their land and neither were the squatters who had left the cabin many months before. Those squatters attempt to take the cabin, land and Lettie by force, and are killed in a shoot-out as the result.
Over the course of several years, Nathan is kidnapped by Native Americans, thought to be dead by the family and their youngest son, Paul, passes away after an illness. They also run a successful ranch with expensive horses and build a large home for their family.
Pain and problems still occur, including the kidnapping and rape of Katie, one of their daughters. When she is saved, she chooses to withdraw into herself and Lettie shares the details of her own rape to help her realize that rape does not define who you are. Eventually Katie meets and marries the love of her life and Nathan returns to the family due to reservations forcing the only family he remembers to endure their sub-human conditions.
Nathan's return prompts questions of ownership of the land and family loyalty. A romantic relationship between one of his biological siblings and the sister he was raised with also occurs, with an unfortunate death soon after. Finally, the children have all grown up, loved and lost and made Lettie and Luke grandparents many times over. After surviving natural disasters, Luke's heart attack and the different paths their children take as adults, Luke and Lettie are still madly in love decades after they first met.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the fact that it was exceptionally long. The story ran from April of 1863 to April of 1888 and therefore numerous changes were observed. The progression of the railroad and the type of hard work that was needed to live in Montana when it was being developed were fascinating.
Best scene in story:
Upon their arrival in Montana, the Fontaines make friends with a childless couple. Several months later, when the husband visits the Fontaines, he is surprised to see that Lettie is pregnant. She blushes when he references her pregnancy. It was a nice reminder that in that time period, pregnancy was often a taboo topic between the genders.
Opinion about the main character:
I loved Lettie and the fact that she was strong and courageous yet feminine and maternal. She chose not to tell any of her chidlren the truth about her first son's conception, until her own daughter was assaulted. However, when it was time to do so, she did not hesitate and did so because she it best for her daughter to learn that information.