Long--whose first book, Jenny's Mountain, was named best first western novel of 1988 by the Western Writers of America--returns with a sensitive and dramatic contemporary romance set against the starkly beautiful backdrop of an isolated Montana sheep ranch. Gracelyn Heath is a timid young college student, overpowered by her conservative, status-seeking family and lacking the inner determination to pursue her dream of being an artist. Then she meets a young veterinarian named Alex McNair, who asks her to marry him and move the sheep ranch he has just bought. Though the proposal sounds more like a business proposition than a declaration of love, Gracelyn agrees, mostly because she sees his offer as a way of escaping from her family's domination. Life as a sheep- rancher's wife is filled with its share of joys and sorrows; to her credit, Long limns these with a deft touch, avoiding sentimentality and instead focusing on the gradual development of Gracelyn's character and her deepening love for her husband and their child. She slowly comes to accept his emotional reticence while he in turn gives her the freedom--and respect--that allow her to continue painting and drawing. Their feeling for each other undergoes its greatest test when the little girl Emmy develops a raging fever and dies en route to the hospital. Long is able to articulate the complex web of guilt and grief that threatens to divide the couple but ultimately serves to bring them even closer together. Stretching the boundaries of the romance genre to their limit and even a bit beyond, this is as rich and satisfying as the dark chocolate its name suggests.