The Doubting Heart, the second in Brenda Gayle’s Heart’s Desire series starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up until the final page. Murder, intrigue and intimidation balance loyalty, romance and some pure old-fashioned grit in a race guaranteed to get your heart thumping.
Her heroine, Shelby, begins as a classic people-pleaser but with a spine of steel that she is only beginning to unveil. Her determination to solve her partner’s murder was a real pleasure to explore, showing a determined loyalty and devotion that instantly won me to her side. Gayle shows the challenge of becoming your own person after years of defining yourself through the eyes of others. Shelby’s journey of discovery to find out who she really is resonated strongly with me. Gayle isn’t afraid to show the challenges and pain that comes with always wearing a mask and forgetting what’s underneath.
Her hero, Chad, is the perfect counterbalance. Where Shelby is loyal even to those she’s just met, Chad is suspicious of everyone. He’s come to Wildhorse Pass under a false name, not to discover who may have killed his cousin, but to see if someone is trying to profit from Michael’s disappearance. He’s isolated himself from his family and yet Gayle makes it clear it’s only because he can’t afford any more scars. His guardedness has built a wall that is begging to be torn down while his protective instincts keep him from being too detached.
Together the two of them embark on a quest to find themselves and discover the truth about why Michael disappeared and who is trying to convince Shelby to seek greener pastures, voluntarily or not.
A well-rounded cast of secondary characters fills the pages. My favourites were Wyatt, the old ranch hand, and Donna, the owner’s wife. Wyatt is a classic Old West fixture, the man in the background with a hint of tragedy. I could practically hear the drawl and see the sun setting behind his cowboy hat. For Donna, the tragedy is out in the open: caught between her husband and her daughter, deciding to sell or not sell. Her quiet despair hooked me from her first appearance.
Fans of Gayle’s first Heart’s Desires book The Hungry Heart (link to Apt613 review) will be pleased to see hints of the larger continuing drama with the Grahams and Rancho Tres Hermanos. Newcomers will love the southwestern vistas and beauty of Wildhorse Pass and enjoy watching romance bloom between the saddle and the rising moon.