My rating: 5 stars / It was amazing!
A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who can help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing for good.
An Irish-born son far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and start a farm, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden’s father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.
Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the annual Drayton Stakes at Nashville’s racetrack––the richest race run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance, and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder, Maggie’s father––aging, yet wily as ever––makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail––Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.
Cullen and Maggie need each other in order to achieve their dreams. But their stubborn, wounded hearts––and the escalating violence from a "secret society" responsible for lynchings and midnight raids––may prove too much for even two determined souls.
This book captivated me from the beginning. The setting is not one I would normally be interested in- post-Civil War South, however the author brings the characters and landscape to life in a way that I can't help but be fascinated. I definitely enjoyed the marriage of convenience theme, and this story is now one of my favorites in that category. Maggie and Cullen are each caught between a rock and a hard place- Maggie because she will lose the family farm to auction, Cullen because nobody will deal with an Irishman. They are both desperate to pursue their dreams, and Maggie's father had enough foresight and faith to offer a solution that would secure the future of both his daughter and their land.
I didn't realize there was such bitter racism against the Irish in the South. It was eye-opening to learn about the attitudes and prejudices that were commonplace. Even Maggie struggled with overcoming her prejudice of Cullen's ancestry but as she grows to respect him for his character she is able to let go of the attitudes passed down by her mother and community. Cullen and Maggie's relationship is fraught with tension; they deal with secrecy and trust issues, feelings of unworthiness, financial difficulties, pressure from society, vandalism and violence from "wolves" (KKK members), and an undeniable attraction and growing love for each other.
I would recommend this book to adult readers since the marital relations between Maggie and Cullen are referred to several times (although tastefully done).
(Thank you to Litfuse Publicity and BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review)