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Willaful Review: The Last Good Man by Kathleen Eagle

Sensuality rating: Steamy Plus. The language isn’t euphemistic, but the love scenes aren’t really graphic or elaborate.

After enjoying But That Was Yesterday  so much, I jumped at the chance to review this Kathleen Eagle reprint, originally published in 2000.  Although I didn’t love it quite as much, it was another intelligent, deftly characterized story, and confirms my feeling that Eagle is my newest favorite author.

All his life, Clay Keogh has given undemanding, unconditional love and care to anyone who’s needed it: abandoned horses, neglected kids, his firebrand half-brother Kole Kills Crow, and most of all, Savannah Stephens. Clay, Kole and Savannah had grown up together, but although she had a unspoken crush on the much older Kole, Clay was the one she experimented with, the boy who was totally trustworthy and totally devoted to her sexual pleasure.

Years later, Savannah has returned home to the Wyoming town they grew up in, with a young daughter, an unspecified past illness, and a bad case of depression. And she’s looking for Clay to be what he’s always been to her — and absolutely nothing more.

She needed him to serve one specific part of her, satisfy one want, and she wanted him to serve the way he always had. Unselfishly.

And though Clay has been married and divorced since Savannah left town for a modeling career, he’s as unable to resist her as ever.

No more protests, no more questions. He had always had only one answer for her, and that was yes.

This sounds like a story about a selfish woman and a wimpy guy who’s too good to be true — and I did worry at first that it might turn out that way.  But there’s quite a bit more to it.  Savannah was not exactly ill: she had breast cancer, treated with chemotherapy and a mastectomy. She’s gone from being a woman paid to be beautiful to being someone who feels scarred, ugly, and full of death.  And she’s terrified to reveal her new self to Clay.  Even after impulsively marrying him, she refuses to ever share a bed with him, pushing him away by brutally telling him, “If you want to fuck, we’ll fuck.” Nothing more.

Savannah is one of the most challenging heroines I’ve ever encountered in a romance novel, not because she’s deliberately cruel — she isn’t — but because she’s in such a funk.  She’s so depressed and anxious that she can’t even take very good care of her daughter, thereby breaking the number one romance heroine commandment, Thou Shalt Always Be a Perfect Mother.  Eagle manages to pull this off because everything that Savannah goes through rings so true. It also helps that Eagle has a lively, quirky writing style that keeps the story moving and the depression from getting too depressing.

Clay is an interesting character in his own right, especially when he starts to break down under the strain of the situation. He tries valiantly to believe that taking care of Savannah is enough for him.

Didn’t matter whether she wanted him or not, as long as she needed him. A person could do without what he wanted, but needs were different… Being needed was a good thing. A man with skilled hands and a strong back was sorely needed just about any place you looked these days. Clay had all kinds of work to do.

This passage is particularly heartbreaking, because Clay actually has a very bad back, aggravated by the farrier work he does. In this moment, he’s denying all of his own needs to think of himself as a provider.

Clay’s warm heart makes him very lovable — especially the way he accepts both his ex-wife’s children and Savannah’s daughter as his own. But he’s not perfect, and he may be too hooked on being needed.

There’s so much to this story, I could fill pages and pages with quotes — but I should probably leave something for readers to discover for themselves.  I’ll just say that everything resolves in an organic feeling way.  Also, despite Savannah’s depression and body image issues, there are several sensual and evocative love scenes, written in language that is blunt but not crude.

I give The Last Good Man 4 out of 5 stars. Thanks to netGalley for the review copy. You can buy it for Kindle here, or in paperback here.  According to Eagle’s website, it should also be available as an audiobook.

Incidentally, the character of Kole never actually appears in the book, but nonetheless makes quite an impression. His story,  You Never Can Tell,  is also scheduled to be reprinted by Bell Bridge Books in multiple formats.

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