The death of Molly McFarlane’s sister Nellie forces Molly to assume responsibility for the welfare of her young niece and nephew. When it becomes clear the children’s step-father Daniel Fletcher is involved in dealings that will ultimately endanger them, Molly takes the children and heads west, intending to put as much distance between Fletcher and the children as possible.
Molly, having served as her physician/surgeon father’s assistant from a young age, is a capable woman who quickly realizes that the scant amount of money she has left will not provide for her and the children for very long. Fearful that Fletcher has sent trackers after them, Molly’s quandary over how to keep them safe is met with an unusual solution in the form of a tragic train derailment. When Molly discovers the railway is paying a death benefit to families of those killed in the train wreck, she marries a man who is not expected to survive his injuries, planning to collect the settlement money when he dies.
Complications arise almost from the moment Molly sets her plan in motion: her husband turns out to be from a wealthy local family and he has a brother who is suspicious about the circumstances under which his confirmed-bachelor brother was wed. To make matters worse, Molly’s years of training will not permit her to stand back and allow the man to die of his injuries when she has the expertise to save him. Molly applies herself to the task of saving the man’s life, all the while fearful of what will happen when he recovers enough to expose her as a fraud.
As Hank Wilkins recovers from his injuries at his family ranch, he puzzles over the fact that he has no memory of his wife or his adopted children while Molly wrestles with how and when to reveal the truth about their sham marriage to Hank. The handsome, taciturn man who once represented nothing more than a cash settlement to fund her journey west becomes the embodiment of the dream for love and family Molly has long denied herself. Their fragile bond is shattered when Hank’s memory returns before Molly finds the courage to reveal the truth.
As the trackers sent by Fletcher close in on their quarry, Molly and Hank struggle to find a way to begin again, unaware that Molly’s nephew has evidence of a conspiracy involving Fletcher that Fletcher is willing to do anything—including commit murder—to recover.
Open Country offers more than the standard “woman and children fleeing danger” plot. Although Molly’s certainty that Fletcher’s men are after them is mentioned often, no real sense of danger is instilled in the reader until Molly has an encounter with the most evil of their pursuers well into the story. Up to that point, the danger is talked about, but the leisurely pace of the novel stalls the element of suspense.
The heart of the story focuses on the unfolding relationship between Molly and Hank, with the author’s gift for insightful dialogue and her ability to capture complex emotions lending credibility to the developing romance. Open Country is a well-written, satisfying read for those who enjoy themes about the redemption of trust and the capacity for mutual attraction to turn into love.
Visit Kaki Warner's website.