Annie MacAllister is an unusual heroine for a Love Inspired romance – a former prostitute (with a heart of gold to quote the old cliche). Annie had a horrible childhood after her mother died and, orphaned at age 14, uneducated and illiterate, her only option for survival was to go to work in the local brothel. Having saved her money, she's now on a stagecoach for the town of Trail's End, hoping to put her old life behind her and make a fresh start. Then a horrible accident occurs, and a young woman named Matilda Cunningham, also traveling to Trail's End, is killed. While the driver goes for help, a distraught Annie mourns for the lovely young woman and wonders why she should be allowed to live instead. And then in a flash of inspiration (for lack of a better word), she goes through the other girl's belongings and puts on her clothes and shoes, and becomes Matilda.
Annie doesn't know much about Matilda, except that the other girl had a job waiting for her in Trail's End and someone would be meeting her when the stagecoach arrived. So she was somewhat dismayed to discover that Matilda was a schoolteacher.
John Sullivan, a member of the school board and president of the bank, meets Annie/Matilda and drives her to the schoolhouse. He's a little concerned that maybe she received a head injury in the stagecoach accident as she seems a little disoriented, asking him questions about her job, the answers to which he'd already detailed to her in letters and the contract she signed when she accepted the position.
John is a likable hero, though a little high hatted. He's a widower who is a wonderful father to his young daughter. He's a pillar of the community, but doesn't really give God much consideration in his everyday life. He seems more about what's proper and accepted than about spiritually right and wrong. He arrogantly tells Annie/Matilda that she is to basically, to paraphrase, live in the schoolhouse, attend church every Sunday, attend meetings when the Board of Education requires it of her, and not have a social life of her own. Okay, maybe that's not quite what he said, but that's how it came across to me. Naturally, he is attracted to the new schoolteacher, but he tamps down that attraction as it is improper. Not to mention she seems terrified if he gets too close to her.
While the story is told from both Annie's and John's POVs, the majority of it is Annie's story, and it's an engrossing story. Annie wonders how she will teach her students when she herself can neither read nor write, and I was pretty curious myself. She prays that she can have just a few days, maybe a week, to enjoy sleeping in a warm bed and having enough food for the first time since she can remember. While Annie seems quiet and shy, she is a strong character, with good morals despite her previous career. She is determined to never go back to that kind of life, and to stretch this schoolteacher gig out as long as she can. Annie overcomes so much during the course of the book that you can't help but admire her.
Eventually of course the truth must be told, and I was gratified that Annie's friend Amanda and the sheriff both wrap her in their love and friendship, with no judgment of her past. John's reaction on the other hand made me want to smack him. But I guess there has to be some conflict before they can have their HEA.
All in all, a very enjoyable story.
(I purchased this book at a library book sale.)