It’s been years since I enjoyed a western historical romance as much as I did the first book in Lori Austin’s new Once Upon a Time in the West series. On a recommendation from Fiction Vixen reviewer Catherine I picked up Beauty and the Bounty Hunter. And. I. Loved. It.
An Outlaw in Wonderland tells the story of Ethan, whom we met in book one, and how he and his wife Annabeth survived the civil war. Ethan is a doctor who gets recruited by the union army into spying on the confederacy. He does so from a hospital in Virginia, what he doesn’t know is that his nurse and the girl he is slowly falling in love with is also a spy. Just for the other side. This begins a complicated relationship that spans years, full of angst and anger and loss. In the first book, Alexi and Cat’s love story plays out slowly with the reader only finding out their real motivations and Alexi’s back story further on in the book. Ethan and Beth’s story starts out from the beginning, right after they meet. They have an instant chemistry, which is only cemented by the shared work of doctoring the suffering soldiers brought in from the field. Both think that by spying they will ultimately save lives and end the war sooner. What they don’t plan on is a romantic relationship developing between them. When Ethan is caught in a trap Annabeth sets , along with his brother Mikey and the sniper Alexi, he is brought to a confederate prison. Since Annabeth is with him when he is caught, she is also taken and kept prisoner.
I think what I have enjoyed most about this series so far is the characters and their development throughout each story . Ethan and Beth are both very flawed, they do bad things, even to each other, and have addictions and plenty of self doubt. Starting out on opposite sides of the war means their relationship suffers many setbacks, even keeping them apart for years. Once they are released from prison they try to start a life together in a small town. But lies and secrets always eventually find a way to come out. These two are so complicated and their relationship is layered with so many emotions and motivations. The author takes the reader on quite a journey as this couple changes and evolves through the years. From innocent girl to hardened spy trying to make a difference and dedicated surgeon to an addicted, lost man who has been patching his heart and soul as best he can. They want each other, even need each other, but trust is something they have to learn to find. They have a wonderful emotional connection between them that builds from page one. The physical side to their relationship almost took a back seat for me. Yes, I wanted to see them consummate their feelings for each other, but more so I wanted them to finally see past their own blindness to acknowledge how right they were together.
On the way to their HEA, they have to figure out a mystery and try and not let their past come between them as they evade their enemies. I loved that Beth is so competent and focused. She seems to become the alpha in their relationship, protecting Ethan and helping him overcome his challenges. Since Ethan and Beth’s story is interwoven with Alexi and Mikey’s, they make appearances throughout. Now I have a more complete picture of what happened to these three men during their time in the war and stay in prison. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing them again further on in the series. I wonder if the next installment will feature someone from Beth’s past. Her brother perhaps? Or maybe even Moze. All I know is I can’t wait for the next release. This is a wonderful series, one that any historical romance lover should pick up. I am definitely recommending. Final Grade- B+
“I lied. About everything. Who I was, what I believed, hell, how I spoke— and you forgave me. If I hadn’t already loved you, I would have loved you for that alone. I’ll always love you Annabeth. Always.”