Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed in e-book format
A good old-fashioned western romance novel. The west is still barely settled, the Civil War not long over, and Marly Landers is on the trail of the man who conned the townspeople out of their money. Marly feels a personal responsibility for this event, so he is heading off to El Paso from the small town of Cherryville, Kansas to collect the money and see that justice is served. Dressed in hand-me-downs of oversize shirt, pants, boots, worn droopy hat, and oilskin duster, he looks like a young teen trying to beat the odds of solitary wandering in the deserts and mountains as he tracks the culprit, Charlie Meese.
In the meantime, Texas Ranger Jason (Jase) Strachan is on the trail of a confidence man who has cheated some high powered people in Austin. He is currently in Dog Flats, about as small and desolate a town as it sounds. As he's finishing a beer, our protagonist Marly arrives, looking for work to pay for a room for the night, a meal, breakfast and a packaged lunch. He offers to do anything from mucking out to waiting tables, even cooking. Jase has seen this boy on his past few stops and is very interested in him because he's discovered they are both trailing the same man. He's seen him work at every stop. Jase knows Marly has been traveling on foot for most of the way from town to town. He is taken with Marly's tenacity and is interested in why they are after the same man. Of course, he's not going to get into that part of it yet. Not sharing his own business in El Paso, he does mention his destination and suggests they travel together. Jase will supply horse and tack, and the boy will work for him.
In Abilene they get Marly a horse and saddle, but he has never been on a horse and definitely not a mulish one. After being thrown and giving his horse a stern talking to, while guffawing cowboys watch the whole procedure from the railings, they are once again on their way with Marly riding the newly but aptly named "Trouble". The next purchase was new clothes and about this time Jase gets the feeling that Marly may be older than he first guessed, maybe about sixteen.
What does a Texas Ranger do when he suddenly discovers that the boy is a girl? Well, once he gets over the shock, he knows there has to be a very important reason why this girl is traveling as a boy, a strong, hard-working and strong-willed boy at that. He must protect Marly's disguise, whatever her reason, and does not let her know he is aware of her gender. With lessons from Jase she soon proves to be well-able to handle all situations she finds herself in, and able to do her share of watch shifts when camping, rifle at the ready.
Alison Bruce does an excellent job on setting the scenes and customs of the old west. History, characterizations, and the long ride of the heroes of the story are convincing for the time. There is lots of action and gun-play as they work together on a case in Fortuna. For the rest of the journey the tension builds between the two as jealousy raises its green-eyed monster more than once, with neither being aware of the feelings of the other. Again the author works this tension beautifully. The arrival in El Paso is almost, but not quite, diminished by the avoidance of communicating these feelings to the point that I wanted to say, Get on with it! A very satisfying read all in all, with an interesting blend of fun and trickery at the end. A mixture of many points of view, the author covers a lot of ground in personalities, geography, and lifestyles. If you're looking for a dish of the old west with a dash of romance and humor minus the raunch dressing, this book is for you.