A Hearing Heart
by Bonnie Dee
Western romance. Set in turn of the century Nebraska. Catherine leaves her wealthy family in upstate New York for the tiny town of Broughton as a schoolteacher, looking to start her life over after the death of her fiance. Jim, who was born deaf, works in the livery and saloon. One day, Catherine witnesses some drunk men abusing Jim and rescues him. In helping him to recover, she discovers that he is not simple-minded as she has been told, but merely unable to speak or write. She decides to tutor him, and love quickly blossoms between them. But they are constrained by the gap in the social status between them and the disapproval of the town. Things in Broughton are not so peaceful either, with the wealthiest man in town buying up all the land, and Jim can't avoid crossing paths with him.
As romances go, this was a pretty good one. Jim and Catherine are both appealing characters, and the obstacles they face are realistic. After a glut of romances with asshole heroes, it was so nice to find one with a hero as sweet and kind as Jim. The writing is a bit flat at the beginning, but it picks up as the book goes along, and there are some very touching love scenes.
The depiction of his deafness is also pretty good. Catherine starts out trying to teach him to speak, but he doesn't make much progress, so she quickly switches to sign language, which they learn together out of a book. The only thing that was unrealistic was that Jim learned to read lips on his own as a child, with encouragement from his mother. Sorry, that's just not possible, but it does serve to make Jim a more independent, competent character. In any case, lip reading is depicted as not perfect, and there's still a lot he misses, which is more realistic.
Also note this is more erotica than romance. There are a lot of very explicit sex scenes, much more than in a standard romance.