Having thoroughly enjoyed the first novel in Beth Williamson's `Malloy Family' series (The Bounty (Malloy Family, Book 1), I'm delighted to report that the second instalment is even better. However, before embarking on this review, I think it's worth pointing out that a number of characters and events that occurred in the `The Bounty' are referred to in `The Prize'. It is, of course, perfectly easy to read `The Prize' as a stand-alone story. But, if erotically-charged romantic westerns are your bag, I reckon you'll love these stories so much that it would be a pity to spoil the first one by reading the second one beforehand. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Jack Malloy is a man haunted by shadows from his past. Nightmares blight his sleep to such an extent that he is left shaking and nauseous when he awakens. His sister, Nicky, is concerned about her favorite brother's bedraggled appearance, but she cannot coax him to tell her of his troubles. Instead, she invites him to help her husband with some building work at their ranch house. Jack readily agrees. He is a skilled craftsman and he hopes that the change of scene may help him.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Nicky's best friend, Rebecca Connor, is also helping with the decorating. This is a little disconcerting to the somewhat reticent Jack because he rather likes Rebecca. Events take an even more disturbing turn for him when Nicky and her husband are suddenly called away back to the Malloy homestead. Shortly after they leave, the weather closes in and deposits so much snow that Jack and Rebecca are effectively cut off from the rest of the area. This leaves them plenty of time to get to know each other better . . .
I should point out, and I'm sorry to harp on about this, that Nicky and her husband are the central characters in the first novel in this series. Furthermore, Rebecca's harrowing back story is also played out in that novel.
What I like most about Beth Williamson's writing in these novels is the punchy, staccato style that she employs. Short passages about events from one character's point of view are followed by the other's take on them. These passages are obviously split along gender lines and add some nice comedic touches to the story. The "explicit sex" that we are warned about on the covers of the novels in this series was somewhat missing in the first one. It is a little more graphic in this second instalment. I've read quite a lot of erotic novels and I watch a lot of erotic films (yes, that's right: I have no life), but I have to admit to spluttering a mouthful of coffee at what I shall only refer to as the `naming of parts' segment. I think it was Rebecca's continual berating of Jack for using even the most mild `curse words' and then saying some pretty choice ones herself in the throes of passion that did for me.
I mean no disrespect when I say that this is a simple story simply told. Beth Williamson is a very skilled writer and storyteller. There's no superfluity in this novel. It's a very entertaining read and very easy to lose yourself in its pages; I finished it in two sittings. The only slightly disconcerting aspect was the high level of emotional outpourings that the characters go through. I know this is par for the course in romantic novels, but it irritated me a little. Yes, my eyes were a little watery on occasion, but I think someone was peeling onions nearby.