Elaine Coffman’s “Escape Not My Love” was not my first venture into the world of romance, but it was my first historical romance novel. And for that, I am grateful.
Superficially, ENML drew me in from the outset. It had a stunning step-back cover, designed with a pattern of a woman’s purple and white flowered gown and opened to reveal the colorful protagonists clinched in a passionate embrace. (Thank God for that step-back! I first read this as I sat in church waiting for my turn to enter the confessional and talk to the priest. He didn’t know what kind of trashy book I was reading and I wasn’t about to volunteer that tidbit. Ha!)
The book quickly drew me in and I instantly fell in love with the genre. I found in historicals a frequent theme of this thrilling battle of the sexes that was lacking from most of the tame Harlequin Romances and modern Temptations I was used to. (I had yet to discover the Presents line).
While hardcore “bodice rippers” no longer dominated the market as they had in years past, in the early 1990’s most heroes in historical romances had not yet been gelded into modern-minded *ahem* wankers that are so prevalent today. I’m being snarky, and don’t mean to offend, but that’s just my no-holds-barred opinion. If contemporary readers prefer forward-thinking, sensitive gunslingers, Vikings, warriors, noblemen, etc., in their historicals, well as they say: Chacun à ses goûts, n’est-ce pas? I prefer my historical heroes to have a rougher edge.
Jay Culhane is a bounty hunter whose job is to travel deep into Mexico where armed criminals roam and bring home the well-meaning, but naive heroine, Jennifer Baxter, who moved from TX to open a school for underprivileged children. Jennifer is the youngest of 11 girls, spoiled and used to getting her way. So you know this book will be one loooong power play between the pair.
Jay kicks down the door of her little house when he first lays eyes upon her black-haired, violet eyed (of course!), lingerie-clad body. Lust takes over reason and he immediately orders Jenny to strip naked at gunpoint and then enjoys the show (‘cuz that’s the kind of guy he is).
Jay takes Jennifer on a long, arduous trip back to Texas. Yes, he’s occasionally violent, at times even abusive to Jenny (like tying her to the back of his horse and making her walk in the scorching midday sun, while he rides comfortably wearing a protective hat). He forces her to cook meals and punishes her with kisses (to which she responds with passion, of course!). Yet he also treats her sores and wounds with gentleness, not-to-mention some ill-hidden guilt. He kills snakes for her when she cries out in terror and unflinchingly murders renegade bandidos who try to kidnap and rape Jennifer.
When I first read this novel I was twelve years old, my parents had just divorced, so I had begun to immerse myself in books for escape. It sounds a bit trite to say a romance changed my life–and I won’t be so extreme as to go that far–but this book definitely influenced me in a profound way. It gave me something to look forward to and enjoy: hope. The love story between Jay and Jennifer is phenomenal.
Elaine Coffman’s writing is so rich and lyrical; I’m still moved by it every time I read it; and yes, I cry every time I read that beautiful, sweet ending.
I will mention that if you really want to see this old-school love story portrayed at its best, read the original, not the re-issue that came out several years later. “Jay-lite” isn’t as sexy as the tortured, lone-wolf of the 1990 version. I dislike the fact that many romance writers think readers are bored or offended by the “traditionally macho” heroes of old. Tortured, abusive man-hoes are accepted in dark eroticas, most contemporary New Adults and lots of paranormals–where anything can happen–while men who lived 100, 500, or 1,000 years ago all have to be represented as ultra-sensitive proto-feminists. The fact that historicals have SNAG-(Sensitive New Age Guys) type heroes is something that makes me very wary every time I read a book published in the new millennium.
Yup, I’m an old fart, what can I say?
Nostalgia may have a bit to do with my ratings of older books; nevertheless, as I’ve read this many times over the years, for me it holds up well. However, if you don’t like cruel heroes who treat the heroine nastily from the get-go, keep in mind that Jay was tormented by a devastating past. It his love for Jennifer that teaches him to let go of the old hurts. The epilogue might have you reaching for your hankies and make you smile at the same time witnessing how tough Jay Culhane has settled down into married life with children.
I wasn’t the only reader who loved this book. “Escape Not My Love” (in its original un-PC form) won the 1990 Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Western Historical Romance.
5 stars for the major enjoyment of this, my first historical romance.