In small-town Virginia, a woman trying to erase her abusive past falls for a towering, reclusive blacksmith with secrets of his own.
Uma Crane escaped her abuser with nothing but the clothes—and scars—on her back. Covered in jagged, ugly ink bearing the hateful words of her ex, she makes it to Blackwood, Virginia, to begin the process of tattoo removal. When she takes a job assisting an eccentric old woman, she meets the blacksmith next door, a hulking presence in a flannel shirt with a big beard and scraggly mane. Ivan is the classic strong, silent type, an outwardly terrifying man with an incredibly soft heart. He begins to care for Uma the way he does his menagerie of strays: dogs, cats, chickens, and even a baby skunk that wormed their ways onto his back porch and into his caretaking heart. Uma is resistant: she’s only in Blackwood for a short time, and she’s suffering from the aftershocks of a brutal night relayed in terrifyingly detailed flashbacks. Anders portrays Uma’s post-traumatic stress not as a checklist of generalized symptoms but as a complex, always-morphing element of one woman’s past, present, and future. While plot elements and secondary characters are predictable (the reappearance of the ex is a foregone conclusion), Anders elevates the “sex heals” narrative common in romance with lovely writing and deeply emotional intimate scenes. Importantly, Uma’s recovery is her own achievement, aided by the women in her life, not something bestowed on her via the attentions of a gorgeous man.
An incredibly sexy, heartbreaking, and intense romantic debut.