How do you prove you are who you claim to be? That's the problem facing U.S. Marshal Hodge Egan in "Heart's Delight," a new book by Ruth Ryan Langan. The tall, handsome marshal takes one last job before retiring to a life of leisure, cigars and gambling, but this last job nearly kills him. He catches up to murderous bank robber Eli Otto (I love the names the author came up with; not a Rafe or Devlin in sight!), but the two are evenly matched with guns, knives, and fists. Both end up gravely injured, only to be rescued by Molly O'Brien, a pretty Irish spinster who runs her Wisconsin dairy farm with the help of four orphans she's adopted.
Since Molly doesn't know which man is the outlaw and which is the lawman, she treats them both with suspicion and caution. She finds herself drawn to Hodge in spite of this. When Eli uses his silver tongue to escape and kidnap one of Molly's daughters, she packs up the whole family to chase after the marshal, who is chasing the outlaw.
The question of identity adds a neat twist to a sweet, classic romance. The characters of the young orphans are great, even the surprisingly savvy four-year-old. Hodge starts out as a bit of a rake and a reprobate, but that makes his conversion to contented farmer all the sweeter.
There are really only three parts to the book: when the men are injured, the chase scenes, and the wrap up. I wish the author had spent more time on the budding relationship between Molly and Hodge. For example, she could have added a few scenes where Molly finds herself attracted to him, but fighting it because she fears he's an outlaw. "Heart's Delight" is sweet and fun, without being challenging.
Irish immigrant Molly O'Brien has earned quite a reputation in Delight, Wisconsin. Raising four orphans all on her own certainly hasn't helped. Nor has the fact that she's just taken in two strangers with serious gunshot wounds, planning to nurse them back to health. There's just one problem. One of the men is an outlaw and the other's a federal marshal-and if she doesn't figure out which is which, she could find herself in a far more compromising position than she could have imagined.