Reed Jackson comes home from the Civil War in a wheelchair after fighting on behalf of the Confederacy. He lost one leg and seriously injured the other and cannot walk. His family’s plantation, which was his legacy, has been turned over to his younger brother so he sets out to create a new life for himself. He is also a lawyer and joins a distant cousin in Fenton, Missouri to reinvent himself. Belle Richards is a young woman who is at the mercy of her father and two brothers who are dirt poor and treat her abysmally. In spite of that, Belle has simple dreams for herself and is convinced they will come true, especially as she has secretly learned to read.
Reed’s struggle to deal with the post-slavery country outside of the South is harsh but realistic. The story is true to the period, including the vernacular common in the era. There are times when you’ll really despise him and other moments where you see glimpses of the true and decent man. When Reed encounters Belle for the first time, he is struck by the purity of her heart, which was reflected in her whole being and expression. Their union was the most improbable but since both arose from harsh circumstances, it worked in a way that ends up being magical. While Reed came from affluence, his father’s cruelty impacted him almost as badly as Belle’s family’s fists did her, except she was able to keep her spirit intact.
I loved this story, even when some of the situations were almost unbearable. While there are some extremely sad moments, there were more where my heart was uplifted on so many levels. This is a mature story and a lovely, lovely romance. I plan to read the other two books by Bush and this will definitely be a re-read.