Jesse and Eve were just kids when they promised to love each other forever. Kids who thought running away together would be romantic. Kids who didn’t consider that the wealthy rancher’s daughter and the hired hand were not an acceptable match. But when Eve returned from school and coldly explained that she needed a husband of means, one who could financially support the ranch, those promises didn’t seem to matter.
It’s been years, though, and Eve’s never taken a husband, never found anyone she could imagine spending her life with the way she once dreamed it with Jesse. And now Jesse’s made his fortune in California, returning to the ranch as a partner instead of the hired help, with the kind of wealth that Eve once thought mattered and a coldness she never expected. But his distance is tempered by the arrival of letters from an anonymous, romantic admirer, someone who sees her flaws and praises her strengths, someone who reminds her of the hired hand she once dreamed of a future with.
The Verdict: While I love historical romance novels, finding good ones is not so easy. The cover usually has some fainting woman whose dress is falling off being held up by some shirtless Fabio wannabe. Then there are the ridiculous character names, the peerage, and some pornish book title, and I can’t get away fast enough. So when a romance set on a ranch in historical Texas pops up, of course I’m going to grab it.
The conflict in the story is pretty simple, just as it should be. In a time when marriage is still more for convenience and stability than love, Eve and Jesse are at odds with accepted tradition. And when the ranch is in financial trouble, Eve takes it upon herself to save it by marrying a man whose wealth and status more closely matches her own family’s. Granted, she doesn’t have a particular man in mind, but she knows it can’t be Jesse, the boy with no roots or possessions that her father hired years ago. She’s breaking both his heart and her own, but it’s her duty, the only way she can ensure the ranch continues to operate. Jesse can’t bear to stick around and watch the girl he loves build a life with someone else, so he leaves for California, intent on making something more of himself, and the years begin to pass.
His sudden return and change in fortune is the last thing Eve expects. She’s never married, hardly been courted, and she wants Jesse more than anything. But Jesse’s quiet and distant, avoiding her more often than not, and between the second-guessing and propriety of the time, they can’t seem to get on the same page. It’s that way of behaving, that subtle and polite detachment with which people conducted themselves in that era, combined with both characters’ reluctance to lay their hearts on the line that becomes their biggest obstacle — and that’s what really made the story. Rather than simply declare his feelings, Jesse begins leaving letters for Eve, notes that he doesn’t sign but into which he pours his heart. But those notes don’t seem to be enough when another suitor arrives, and Eve’s not knowing whose words she’s been reading only complicates things further.
If I named off all the moments and plot points that I loved while reading One Last Letter, I’m afraid I’d give the whole thing away. Besides, my summary would hardly live up to reading them as they happen. So let me just put it this way: If you love historical romances with a simple western flair, pick this one up. It’s a fairly quick read that steers clear of the usual cliches, focuses on a couple clearly meant for each other and whom you can’t help but root for, and ultimately delivers an incredibly sweet happy ending.