Title: Sweetwater
Author: Lisa Henry
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: September 29, 2014
Genre(s): Historical, Western
Page Count: 240
Reviewed by: Jewel
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Wyoming Territory, 1870.

Elijah Carter is afflicted. Most of the townsfolk of South Pass City treat him as a simpleton because he’s deaf, but that’s not his only problem. Something in Elijah runs contrary to nature and to God. Something that Elijah desperately tries to keep hidden.

Harlan Crane, owner of the Empire saloon, knows Elijah for what he is—and for all the ungodly things he wants. But Crane isn’t the only one. Grady Mullins desires Elijah too, but unlike Crane, he refuses to push the kid.

When violence shatters Elijah’s world, he is caught between two very different men and two devastating urges: revenge, and despair. In a boomtown teetering on the edge of a bust, Elijah must face what it means to be a man in control of his own destiny, and choose a course that might end his life . . . or truly begin it for the very first time.

After reading several lighter titles, I wanted something with a bit more weight to it. With Sweetwater, I got what I was after.

Sweetwater takes place during a time in our history where violence was often used to solve problems and disease was a common thing. It wasn’t a very nice time to exist in, for many people, I’ve little doubt.

Elijah is a young man who was left mostly deaf after contracting scarlet fever as a child. He lost all of his family to that fever and after that, the doctor that was treating him took him in. Dr. Carter suffered losses of his own the year before that when his wife and young daughter died. I am so thankful for modern medical care and ease of travel, let me tell ya. Dr. Carter is a very compassionate man and only wants to give Elijah a chance at a better life.

Elijah, however, has always seen himself as a burden to Dr. Carter, but not from anything the doctor has ever said or done to him. Other people tend to treat Elijah like he’s stupid and they make fun of his speech and call him useless (along with a host of more colorful insults). And since it is easier to believe bad things about yourself than it is good things, his self esteem is pretty awful.

Harlan Crane, the owner of the local saloon and several card houses in town sees something in Elijah that he can take advantage of and exploit. He sees that Elijah feels he deserves punishment for not being who Dr. Carter would want him to be. So, he starts a sexual relationship with Elijah and he hurts and humiliates the young man. And Elijah takes it and he feels he deserves it and a part of him gets off on it all, but there as no real trust there. No caring. Not safe, not sane and not altogether consensual. It made me sad and angry for Elijah.

In comes Grady Mullins. He’s a cattle rustler that, along with his cousins, has been selling stolen cattle to Crane, via the local butcher whom Elijah works for. He’s noticed Elijah and finds himself wanting to know him. He’s not like Crane at all. Grady feels a tenderness toward Elijah that he’s never felt for another before. He doesn’t like how Crane treats Elijah at all, even though Elijah feels he deserves that treatment.

Elijah doesn’t know what to do with the kindness that Grady shows him at first. It confuses him because he is filled with self loathing. But, after some not so good circumstances that allow Elijah to spend more time with Grady, he finds he likes the comfort and the kindness that Grady gives. Especially during a time in his life when he feels so lost.

I’m so glad Grady came along. Though he has no desire to hurt and humiliate Elijah, he is able to give Elijah what he needs in an SSC way. And, as a bonus, Grady really cares about Elijah. In time, I think Elijah will learn to care about Grady as well, rather than just latching onto the comfort and protection that Grady offers.

Sweetwater was a really good book. Not an altogether easy read, but worth the journey. The ending is more of an HFN with the potential of an HEA, but considering the time period we’re dealing with, I don’t think I would have believed an HEA if it were served up, so I feel the ending was quite appropriate.

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