Mackenzie's Mountain by Linda Howard
Mary Elizabeth Potter is a self-appointed spinster with no illusions about love. But she is a good teacher--and she wants Wolf Mackenzie's son back in school. And after one heated confrontation with the boy's father, she knows father and son have changed her life forever.
Still paying for a crime he didn't commit, Wolf Mackenzie has a chip on his shoulder the size of Wyoming. But prim-and-proper Mary Elizabeth Potter doesn't see Wolf as the dangerous half-breed the town has branded him. Somehow she sees him as a good, decent, honest man. A man who could love...
Wolf's not sure he--or the town of Ruth, Wyoming--is ready for the taming of Wolf Mackenzie.
I love this book. I have reread it many times and each time it is just as good as the first time I read it. Written in 1989, it does feel dated in the fact that Wolf is constantly referred to as a half-breed and Mary is seen as a spinster and the dowdy schoolteacher cliche is alive and well in this one. However, both Wolf and Mary rise above such labels and are so well written otherwise that it is impossible (for me) to allow the foibles of outdatedness to keep me from enjoying this book.
Mary has recently been hired by the tiny town of Ruth, Wyoming to teach grades nine through twelve. As a transplant from Savannah, snowy Wyoming is a shock to the system! When she sees that the top-performing student dropped out two months before she arrived, she is determined to meet with him and talk him into returning to high school to get his diploma. This student happens to live on a ranch at the top of a mountain, so intrepid Mary, determined to get this student back into school, climbs in her car and tackles the snowy drive heedless of the fact that she is not accustomed to driving in the snow. All is well until a water hose breaks, stranding her on the side of the mountain. Fortunately, after a short walk, Wolf Mackenzie comes along in his truck to rescue her from her freezing stroll.
Wolf Mackenzie wears a thick shell. After being wrongfully convicted of a rape and being incarcerated for two years, he is not inclined to believe in the goodness of mankind. However, he can't just leave the new school teacher to freeze on his mountain so he drives her to his house and does his best to warm her up. This scene is fantastic as Wolf does not worry about Mary's sensibilities and Mary is both alarmed and intrigued by her reactions to his ministrations. Just when things are really heating up, Joe, Wolf's son and the student Mary is looking for shows up. Mary pulls herself together and once she discovers Joe's passion for planes uses that to talk him into tutoring and returning to school in the fall. Mary is convinced that Joe is capable of achieving his dream of entering the Air Force Academy.
Due to Wolf's past and his being half-Indian, he is not highly regarded by the majority of citizens in Ruth, Wyoming. This coupled with Mary's tutoring of Joe puts a target on her back and she is soon accused of "canoodling" with Joe. Mary lights into everyone at a school board meeting leaving no doubt in any one's mind that she will tolerate no criticism or either Wolf or Joe nor will she allow anything to stand in the way of Joe's future. Her adamant and consistent defense of both Mackenzie's slowly brings others around to her way of thinking and the Mackenzie men are beginning to experience a long-belated welcome into the community when a woman is attacked by someone bearing a strong resemblance to Wolf.
This event brings back all of the unpleasantness of Wolf's past and damages the town's newly positive feelings for him. When Mary is attacked, she sees a pale hand with freckles proving Wolf's innocence but leaving the town in a frenzy because now the real attacker could be anyone. Mary is determined to keep Wolf and Joe safe while they put their foot down that THEY will protecting HER. Linda Howard is a master author and this book is one of her classic "bests". As the first in the Mackenzie series, it sets a high bar for the rest of the books to live up to. I enjoyed this reread so much, I am headed off to get the second book in the series right now which features Joe's story so I can reread it, too.
Hard Core Reread
I purchased this book with my own funds.