Recap: Destiny Awaits by Suzanne Elizabeth
Posted February 18, 2009on:
I think we have an instant classic here, gang. A spoiled heiress time travels back to the Old West and meets a handsome, be-mulleted hero.
Line, Publication Date: Harper Historical Romance, 1995
Cover Steaminess: 6. See the cover for yourself. It’s a classic clutch with a woman dressed in shockingly little given the bulk of this book takes place in 1885.
Back of Book Description: Here’s the book description.
Flowery Language Quotient: Medium-high. A couple of ham-fisted metaphors and off-color jokes, but otherwise not too bad.
We open in Carmel, CA, in 1995. Tess, a computer chip heiress, has a nasty cold. She fantasizes about sitting on the beach, sipping Perrier and reading Danielle Steel, then she mistreats her maid for a bit, then a mysterious lady shows up.
Tess acts insufferably rude, like a sad, spoiled child. I’ll save us some time and tell you that the lady is magic, and she talks about “inserting” Tess back where she belongs. Tess, apparently, belongs in Kansas. The lady tricks Tess into saying, “Spiritual Guide, I would like to have a look at my true fate.” Tess blinks, and suddenly, she’s outside and there are horses and dust and she is very confused.
Because Tess is now in Sweet Briar, Kansas, and it’s 1885!
After the mystery lady rescues Tess from death by stagecoach, Tess yells at her. The lady chooses that moment to disappear. I think she’s got the right idea.
Tess goes to the Wells Fargo office, thinking it’s a bank, but, har-dee-har, this Wells Fargo is a stagecoach operation. Tess, embarrassed, goes back outside and is soon accosted by a little girl who calls her a “pink bear.” Tess is wearing a pink bathrobe. I’d gripe about how the mystery lady should have put her in period dress, but Tess sucks and totally deserves to be caught in 1885 in her bathrobe.
The author clearly does not want us to like Tess, because next it’s revealed that she hates kids. There are actually two little girls, and Tess admonishes the older one (Holly, a teenager) for letting her sister (Sissy Mae) wander the streets. The older girl snaps that her Uncle Joseph won’t like Tess scolding her like that. Tess intends to give Uncle Joseph a piece of her mind. Then he shows up.
He is described thusly: “He had long brown hair, thick and wavy, and a strong, square chin peppered with rugged, dark stubble. He wore dark brown pants that hugged his lean hips and were tucked into the tops of a pair of high, leather boots. His white, button down shirt thinly covered a wide chest and a pair of broad, muscular shoulders that were accented by a pair of black cloth suspenders.” He also has green eyes, naturally.
Tess tells Joseph she’s been kidnapped, taken from her home in California that very afternoon, and Joseph thinks she’s unhinged but directs her to the sheriff’s office. Unfortunately, Sissy is still clinging to her leg, so Tess (who assumes all these people in period garb are actors, Joseph included) scandalizes everyone by doffing her robe. (She’s wearing a stained Michael Bolton tee-shirt underneath. Oh, 1995.) Joseph tells her that she might want to drop by Doc Nathan’s office on the way to the sheriff, but not before getting a good look at her bare legs. Joseph wisely tries to coax his nieces away from the crazy lady, but Sissy still won’t quite give it up. She’s clearly devastated by the recent deaths of her parents and sees some kind of hope in the pink bear. This pulls on Tess’s heartstrings, and she’s about to say something comforting, but then she gets dizzy and passes out.
She comes to in the doctor’s office. They have a Comical Misunderstanding wherein Tess goes on about contemporary technology (she’s heiress to a computer chip fortune, remember) and the doc thinks she’s lost her marbles.
Joseph and co. wait in the waiting room. Tess bribes him to buy her some clothes in exchange for Sissy taking the pink robe, which she’s grown attached to. He brings her back undergarments, a long skirt, and a shirtwaist, which I don’t think is period. Tess still thinks she’s trapped in a theme park and feels a little put out at having to put on a costume, but she does it to make Sissy feel better. Joseph and the girls leave. The doctor exposits that Joseph is a farmer (and probably not a very good one), then he offers to buy one of Tess’s cold pills for $3, which is the cost of one night in the Fireside Inn. (“Price includes a hot bath.”) Tess is unimpressed and asks for directions to the bank.
At the bank, there are more Comical Misunderstandings, since Tess doesn’t know she’s time-traveled yet, and then Tess totally wigs out on the teller, brandishing a candlestick. The teller starts scooping money out of the till because he thinks she’s a robber. Naturally, as soon as she steps out of the bank, she gets arrested.
The mystery lady shows up while Tess is in a jail cell. The lady tells Tess that this isn’t a prank, it’s the real Sweet Briar, Kansas, in 1885. (Every time I type that year, I hear Marty McFly shout, “1885!”) Tess starts shouting about suing everyone in Kansas when the sheriff shows up and asks what she’s ranting about, and of course the lady has vanished again.
Tess asks the sheriff to verify that she’s in for real 1885 and not fake 1885, which he does. The sheriff tells her he’ll release her in the morning and asks after her family. She says they’re in Europe, so he asks if she has a friend he could release her to, and she gives him Joseph’s name. The sheriff tells her that, if Joseph isn’t willing to pay her fine, she has to serve a sentence no less than 30 days.
Fifty pages in, we get our first scene from Joseph’s POV. He’s at his wits’ end because Sissy is still sobbing over the departure of her pink bear. Joseph thinks that he wasn’t cut out for fatherhood—he just became the girls’ guardian the previous day—and doesn’t know what to do. Holly sasses him, which doesn’t help. He snaps at both girls, which makes Sissy cry harder and Holly shout that he’s not her father. Joseph curses his brother for dying and leaving him in this predicament.
Joseph shows up to get Tess out of jail the next morning. He offers to pay her fine in exchange for her coming to live with him to play nanny to the girls and help out at the farm. Tess is all indignant at the prospect of work, then the sheriff tells her it’s about the only offer she’s gonna get. Joseph tells her that he’ll pay her 25 cents a day, which means it will take her 3 weeks to pay off her $5 fine. It takes her a couple of pages to work out that this is her only hope, so she takes the deal, and Joseph tells her that if she gives him any trouble, he’ll bring her back to jail.
Once she’s out, he takes her shopping. She tries to weasel out of farm work, but he laughs at her and tells her he’s looking forward to seeing her knee-deep in pig shit. Me, too! I think Joseph and I are going to be friends, even with the mullet. They go to a store, and Joseph rattles off a list of things Tess will need, and Tess gets snotty about her wardrobe choices. The store clerk asks if Joseph will pay cash, because his credit’s no good. Tess comes to his “aid” by telling off the clerk. You can guess how well that goes over.
So they shop then go to the farm. When they get to the farm house, Tess about loses it. (“You live in a cave?” “It’s a sod house.” God, she’s such a harpy.) She says she won’t step foot in the house and offers to sleep in the barn. She realizes as soon as she gets into the barn that this was not smart thinking, because, you know, animals live there, but she opts to make do. There’s an exchange about life without plumbing—Joseph points her towards the outhouse and the creek where she can bathe, and she’s just horrified—and this is completely stupid because Tess has already come to terms with the fact that it’s 1885; doesn’t she know there isn’t going to be a working toilet? Joseph, awesomely, doesn’t care about any of her complaints and sets her to work doing his laundry.
Tess, as you might guess, is terrible at doing laundry. But then the girls come home, so there’s cute banter. Then the girls go inside and Tess and Joseph yell at each other a whole lot. Next, Tess churns butter, and Holly comes in to mock her, informing Tess that her ruse to trap Joseph into marrying her just won’t work. Tess misunderstands and guesses that Joseph is gay. Joseph shows up to tell her she can give up for the night, and they argue some more, which results in Joseph getting all the cream from the churn tossed at him. Tess storms off in a huff, Joseph throws his head back and laughs.
Tess insists on eating dinner by herself in the barn, so Sissy comes out to talk to her, and is adorable. They chat, it comes to light that Holly distrusts all men and assumes that Joseph will start beating them one of these days. That’s a healthy attitude.
That night, Tess manages to conjure the mystery woman, who tells Tess that her parents were never meant to have children. As they got on in years, their guardians felt bad for them and plucked Tess out of the space-time continuum and plunked her down in a loveless childhood in the 20th Century. She was supposed to have been born in the 1860s. Also, every soul has a purpose, and Tess must serve hers in 1885! The lady doesn’t tell Tess what her purpose is, but does say that, once she’s fulfilled her mission, she can go back to 1995. Tess assumes that her job is to work for Joseph until she’s paid off her debt, but the lady informs her that menial chores are insignificant; her real purpose is to keep the Maguire family together. Had Tess been born when she was supposed to have been born, she would have prevented the deaths of Sissy and Holly’s parents. Thus, it is her job now to make sure Sissy and Holly don’t wind up in an orphanage, and it’s implied that Joseph’s thinking pretty hard about giving up the girls. So, Tess must convince him not to, then she can go back to 1995.
The next morning, Tess and Joseph fight again some more. Tess does the first good thing she’s done in the whole damn novel and tells Joseph that he has to do a better job raising those girls, because they don’t like or trust him and they need more attention than he’s giving them. He seems to think about that, but he’s distracted by her exposed leg, which leads to a conversation in which Tess confesses to some youthful indiscretions. Joseph pretends to be scandalized but is really amused. He asks to see Tess’s hands and, just as he suspected, they are smooth as silk. She mentions her maid, he points out that the barn is a far cry from her old life, and now everyone’s embarrassed. He softens a little but tells her she needs to milk the cow before lunch. And, because she’s a romance heroine, she’s all hot and bothered because he’s a big, burly man and he touched her hand.
After some comical hijinks involving Tess screwing up farm chores, Sissy comes home distraught because Holly ran off. Holly tried to play baseball during recess, and her teacher yelled at her and said some pretty nasty things because girls are not supposed to play baseball, duh. Tess comforts Sissy as best as she can, then goes to the school to straighten out this teacher. She and the teacher argue, but Tess is meaner, so the teacher consents to go easier on Holly.
Joseph thinks about how bad at her chores Tess is, then goes off to the school to find her. There’s an altercation with with the teacher in which Joseph starts apologizing, but the teacher is so awful that he can’t help but insult her. Then he goes off to find Tess, and finds her and Holly fighting in the woods.
My copy of the book has an ad inserted here for some historical romance book-of-the-month club thing. The book covers have a lot of long, flowing hair and fluffy dresses.
Anyway, Joseph eavesdrops and thinks that the main reason the teacher is picking on Holly is that he is her guardian. Tess tells Holly that if she doesn’t go back to school she’ll let the teacher win, and Holly seems to buy it. Then Tess tells Holly they can play baseball together anytime (and makes a joke about swinging bats at Joseph) which makes Holly laugh.
Joseph offers them a ride back to the farm, and he and Tess talk awkwardly. He’s uncomfortably attracted to her the whole time. On the way back to town, they run into a representative from the Ladies’ Auxiliary who tells Joseph he’s an unfit parent and alludes to something unsavory in his character.
The next morning, everyone oversleeps because Tess hid the rooster. She and Joseph fight some more, and he grabs her. She’s overcome with lust, and says, “If you let me go, I’ll scream!” which makes him falter. The fighting shifts into aggressive flirting, and then he kisses her. He says, “I think you might be too much for an honest man to handle,” then, “Good thing I’m not altogether that honest.” Good times. Sissy interrupts and asks for breakfast before they can take it any further, so Joseph goes to cook breakfast and Tess goes to bathe in the creek.
I knew as soon as Tess wandered off to bathe that someone would find her naked, and someone does. Said someone is a stringy-haired man looking for Joseph. Tess makes him avert his eyes so that she can get dressed, then they go back to the house. The man is a friend of Joseph’s that he calls “Ulyss.” Ulyss just got out of prison, two years early. They have a conversation about some money that is apparently long gone. Ulyss threatens to start taking Joseph’s possessions (including the girls and Tess) if Joseph doesn’t come up with half of the money in a week. Then he rides off, and Joseph confesses to Tess that he and Ulyss once robbed a bank.
Tess goes ballistic, calling him a hypocrite for his continued threat to toss her back in jail, when he is, in fact, an actual criminal. He tells her he did time, as if that absolves everything. She asks what he plans to do about Ulyss, and he figures he’ll steal the money and go back to jail. Tess yells at him for thinking about abandoning the girls, then produces the gold candle holder she had on her when she was transported back to 1885!
Tess and the girls break up green beans, and Holly asks for advice about a boy she likes but who’s mean to her, so she doesn’t want to like him. Gee, that doesn’t parallel another plot in this novel or anything. Tess advises Holly to wait for the boy to kiss her, so that if she doesn’t like it, she can punch the boy in the face. See, now, that’s just good advice. Joseph shows up to tell the girls that Doc Nathan is coming for dinner, so they ought to put on their best dresses. Tess only has the apocryphal clothes Joseph bought her and not a best dress; Joseph thinks she looks fine, but she’s suddenly self-conscious, and then the girls suggest that she wear “Ma’s dress.”
So she puts it on, and Holly gets a little maudlin about missing her ma, and then Tess and both girls are clutching each other and sobbing, which makes it the perfect time for Joseph to walk in. He sends the girls ahead to greet the doctor and his wife, then tells Tess that she was right and the girls will always have someone to look after them. Tess is overwhelmed by the prospect that her mission might be over and she can go home, but then she realizes she’s not ready to go home yet.
Joseph doesn’t understand women. He gets what you are supposed to do with women (“You admired them. You courted them. You made love to them every chance you got.”), but he sure doesn’t understand Tess, who is rude and selfish but also cares about the girls and gave him the gold candlestick. He intends to use the money from the sale of the candlestick to open an account for Tess at the bank they seem to be taking turns robbing so that she has enough money to take care of the girls, then he’ll quietly slip out of town. He says good bye to the girls, then he deposits the money and skips town while Tess and the girls are at the doctor.
Joseph doesn’t get too far out of town when Tess, somehow now wearing jeans and a man’s shirt, catches up with him. She yells at him that she’s been following him all afternoon. She assumes he’s off to kill his old buddy Ulyss, and she’s an idiot because she took all the money out of the bank. She explains that she got suspicious when Joseph gave them all such “heartfelt” good byes, saying his heart gave him away. He’s a romance hero, so he says, “You’re not any more surprised to discover I have one than I am, lady.”
She continues to follow him, so they go on an adventure together. After all, it wouldn’t be a western if there wasn’t a scene where they camp on the open prairie at night. Tess gets nostalgic over fast food, Joseph makes an off-color joke about not wanting Tess to gnaw on him in the middle of the night (unless there is mutual gnawing) and it all kind of goes downhill after that. They call each other names for a while, and they kiss, then Tess decides she won’t sleep with Joseph until he agrees to keep his nieces. She tells him that she has self control but he doesn’t, so a challenge is issued: the first one of them to fold under the pressure of their overwhelming sexual desire has to do whatever the other one wants. Tess thinks this is the way to get Joseph to agree to take care of the girls.
Tess wakes up the next morning to see Joseph bathing in the river. That’s cheating. There’s a law of Romance Novel nature that no woman (and not many men, either, if some of the novels I’ve been reading lately have any truth to them) can resist a naked cowboy. Tess is resisting pretty well until he turns around and she sees that he’s hung like a horse. Of course he is. He invites her to join him, and she says holds out at first, but she can’t resist a dare, so she takes her clothes off. Because that’s the way to win the bet.
Here’s an amazing line: “She was bathing naked with a man she barely knew and yet desired more than Elvis Presley craved peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”
They have a really childish argument (“Don’t look at me!” “No, you don’t look at me!”) but Joseph looks and sees Tess’s appendectomy scar, then tells her she’s beautiful (and a natural blonde, which… what? Did a lot of women dye their hair in 1885!?). He shows her his scar, a knife wound he got when he was being apprehended after the bank robbery. She’s humbled enough to gather her wits and suggest they get dressed.
They get to Dodge City (of course they do) and Joseph explains that he’s installing Tess at a hotel while he goes to some mine to give Ulyss his money. Tess sees right through that and knows he’s trying to ditch her. He explains that he intended for the girls to stay with her, and Tess rightly points out that she can barely take care of herself. The argument ends in a stalemate with Joseph thinking that he loves his nieces too much to stay with them.
They get a room at a hotel, and, while they’re there, the sheriff shows up to check on Joseph. It’s implied that Joseph comes to Dodge quite often, is known in brothels and at card tables, and the sheriff invites Joseph to a game as a way to make sure he’s behaving. So Joseph leaves Tess alone in the room and goes to play cards. Tess waits for several hours, then convinces herself that Joseph has gotten himself gunned down in the streets. She dresses up like a boy and goes outside. She gets hit on by a prostitute, as one does. She finds the saloon where Joseph is playing cards, and as she gets there, there is a gunfight, though Joseph is not involved in it. Once it’s over, he recognizes Tess and is pretty pissed off that she left the room after he told her not to.
They go back to the hotel and have another huge fight that ends with Tess shouting that she was worried about him, which switches his anger on into lust, and he’s willing to throw the fight in order to get her into bed. He declares himself the loser, and they do it. There’s an extended metaphor comparing Tess’s orgasm to waves crashing on the shore and talk of how her body was made to fit his and the feeling is like magic and blah blah.
Joseph is gone when Tess wakes up the next morning, and they’re both idiots, because Joseph assumed Tess would stay in bed and Tess assumed Joseph skipped town, so she goes to find him and there’s an altercation with a man with an Eastern European accent who is all, “Vere do you tink you are goink?” Then another man shows up and they fight over Tess then they shoot at each other. Joseph shows up then, explaining that he only went to breakfast, but then he threatens to throw her in jail because at least she’ll stay put there so he can go kill Ulyss then ride to Arizona. They have a big fight in front of the jailhouse, and Tess tells Joseph that, because she won the bet, she demands he stay with her and his nieces, but he rides off anyway and Tess gets tossed in jail with Eastern European Accent.
The sheriff lets her go awhile later, so she goes back to the hotel and finds that Joseph left all their money behind.
Joseph goes to this mine to confront Ulyss. He realizes he doesn’t have it in him to kill the man, so he tells Ulyss that he’s bringing him to the sheriff. Ulyss, no fool he, runs away, and Joseph chases him, and they shoot at each other some, then the mine caves in.
Tess runs into Eastern European Accent and asks for help getting to the mine. He takes her there. They see that it’s caved in, and Tess realizes that she loves Joseph and wants to rescue him. She has to climb through a very narrow tunnel to do it, and she’s scared, but does it anyway, because True Love and wocka wocka.
Joseph comes to and starts trying to dig himself out of the cave when he hears Tess singing the Bingo song with J-O-S-E-P-H instead of B-I-N-G-O (“There was a farmer in a cave…”) but it doesn’t really work, because too many letters, but anyway, they find each other. She must have serious claustrophobia, because Joseph is the one who got shot at by his former friend then survived a cave-in, but Tess is seriously about to lose her shit. She refuses to go back through the tunnel, but Joesph talks her into it by agreeing to go back with her to the farm and the girls.
I guess the good news is that Ulyss died in the cave in, so Tess and Joseph can ride off back to Sweet Briar as if nothing happened. So, off they go, but they stop to make camp and have sex by the campfire. Tess thinks about how her mission is now accomplished, but she doesn’t really want to leave this man that she’s come to love so very much. I guess fighting + good sex = love.
They go back to town, and on the way Joseph gets into a fight with a shopkeeper at a mill, but they work out an agreement and it’s all very vague. Tess and Joseph go to pick up the girls at the doctor’s house and stay overnight there for some reason. (Well, that reason is so they can have sex in a real house with a real bed, I guess.)
The next day, they go back to the farm. Joseph leads Tess to a pasture where she’s never been before, and there are 20 men there building Joseph’s new house. Then Joseph proposes. Tess is all, “I can’t stay!” but then the mystery lady shows up to tell her that, actually, she can. The lady says that Tess and Joseph were supposed to have been childhood sweethearts, and that they would have gotten married earlier and avoided the whole mess with Ulyss and the bank robbery, and blah blah fate blah. Joseph doesn’t see the mystery lady, so he think Tess has gone mad and is talking to herself. The lady tells Tess she can stay, but the decision is irreversible, but Tess is all, “I love Joseph! I have a family now!” and she’s the happiest she’s ever been, so she stays. The end.