Wow! This was very nearly a five-star read for me. It's like a 4.75. Loved Allie and Jeff, adored their story and was super impressed at how Harrington wrote the antagonists. It's the third book I've read by this author (after Harper's Bride and Desperate Hearts) and I liked it much more than either of them.Left in charge of the family farm and her addled sister after her father's death, Althea Ford is overworked and overwhelmed. Against her better judgement, but desperate for the help, she's walked to town to hire the local drunken bully to fix her roof and plant her garden. When he doesn't show up for the job the next day, as they had agreed, she complains to the local sheriff. Her roof leaks, time's ticking on garden planting and she just can't hack it alone anymore.Completing his fall from sheriff to drunken vagrant, Jefferson Hicks is on the other side of the bars in the local jail after getting caught stealing an egg from a local farmer. Plagued by nightmares from a shooting that left a boy dead and abandoned by his wife, Jeff has sought oblivion at the bottom of a bottle for the past two years. Now at rock bottom, the current sheriff gives him an option - stay in jail for a month, or live and work on the Fords' farm for the rest of the growing season.Both Althea and Jefferson are terribly burdened souls. Though very different people, both carry weighty guilt on their shoulders for the deaths of people close to them. Jeff is tormented by the night he shot a local boy he'd taken under his wing, and Althea by her mother's suicide when Althea was a little girl. They mirror each other in how they react to this guilt. Althea tries to atone by dedicating her life to the farm and her sister, and Jeff goes the other way entirely by running away from all of his responsibilities and cares until he barely cares if he lives or dies.So, the book is about two wounded souls shoring the other up. Responsible, demanding Althea the employer forces Jeff to sober up and redeem himself through an honest day's work. The old lawman in Jeff begs Allie to address the injustices in her life and believe she deserves happiness. Apart, they're both victims of their own consciences. Together, they're able to unravel the other's problems and stand as stronger individuals.I enjoyed watching the characters grow in this way. You see Jeff as a straight-up drunk at the novel's beginning. He's filthy, he's scrawny and his hands shake so bad, he hasn't written to his own mother in years. Harrington doesn't make a major plot point of his alcoholism, but she still treats it with the proper respect. Throughout the book, you see him battle the temptation to drink, though he doesn't relapse, so it's not dispensed with in a facile manner. Althea starts the novel a slave to her father's memory and her sister's whims, working hard for everyone but herself. She's unhappy, worn out and tired.Watching these two slowly find their happiness was incredibly satisfying in the face of their troubles. This is definitely a romance in the slow-burning department. They share only a few rather chaste kisses before the only sex scene happens at about 85% of the way in. I thought that the subdued, deliberate pace worked for the characters. In place of heated embraces and frequent makeouts, Jeff and Allie talked. Before they fell in love, they formed a friendship. And perhaps because of the long build-up, their night together was all the more heartfelt and emotional. It was an act of love rather than just physical attraction.I also found the antagonists cleverly written. We start off with one villain, the mean drunk father of the boy Jeff shot, then end up with another villain in Althea's sister. I liked how they had understandable, if not sympathetic, motivations and how their mischief was so well tied up with Allie's and Jeff's character growth. They didn't just provide external conflict to put the HEA on hold, they made the HEA possible.Having rambled on quite long enough, I'll wrap it up here. Although it had a few spots of over-obvious foreshadowing and lacked the transcendent sparkle of an amazing book, it was damn close to a five-star read for me. If you like emotional, redemptive romance in a historical western setting, this is a wonderful read.