1876: Miriam Longstreet is unhappy to leave school and join her parents at her father’s post at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. She is hemmed in by society’s expectations of an officer’s daughter and by her mother Harriet’s erratic behavior, made worse by a fondness for laudanum. Miriam becomes attracted to Private Jake Deakins, assigned to be the family’s cook. But her social-climbing mother promotes the courtship of Lt. Robert Wood, an ambitious officer who believes that wooing his superior’s daughter will help his career. Harriet also discourages the friendship between Miriam and Jake’s sister Carrie, a post laundress, since it means consorting with the lower classes. Wood uses his power to have Jake assigned to a hazardous duty, hoping his death will leave a clear field for Wood’s chances with Miriam.
This is a frontier romance with substance. The serious themes of addiction and class differences provide more depth than usual in a romance. Other characters besides the main couple are multifaceted, with understandable motives for their actions. Nowak researched life at Ft.Randall in the National Archives, and weaves the results seamlessly into the story without forcing facts down the reader’s throat. I’m looking forward to her next book.