Having completed two years at a Virginia ladies’ college, required to gain her inheritance, Jessamine Elliott returns to Tanner’s Ford. Raised on a ranch with six wild brothers, she’s determined to keep her independence by becoming a partner on her brothers’ Bitterroot Ranch. But Ranger insists she prove herself by spending three weeks working for the Double Diamond, owned by a trio of greenhorn English aristocrats, posing as a boy. At Ranger’s urging, Kenrick ‘Ace’ Langford reluctantly takes Jessie on, thinking she’s a bratty boy but needing the skills. His partners see through Jessie’s disguise but go along with the ruse, hoping they will marry. Ace feels strangely drawn to Jessie so stays far away. Three weeks later he thinks he’s finally free of the brat when he finds Jessie floating in his hot spring. When the uppity brat rolls over, showing lush breasts, Ace decides it’s payback time
This is the third in a series of novels based on the historical phenomenon call the Brides Trains of the late 1800's. Begun to bring "mail order" brides to the men of the American West following the Civil War when so many veterans came West in order to start a new life after enduring the hardships and losses of war, these train loads of women were a factor in bringing making new relationships for women who may have had limited opportunities to marry or have families if they remained in the East. However, women were often brought West under false pretenses, a number were contracted into proxy marriage and then sold outright to brothels by unscrupulous men, or were abducted enroute for one reason or the other. The heroine in this tale has a social conscience--she ends up participating in a rescue of two women, one who was sold to a brothel by her husband, and one whose family was murdered by outlaws who sold her to that same brothel. Through the action of Jessie and her brothers, these two women were rescued and given the opportunity of a fresh start.
In this novel the heroine has come West to claim her portion of the family ranch in Montana. However, her brothers are unwilling to sell her a portion of the ranch even though they know she is as savvy about ranching and as adept at running a ranch as any man. So in order to get her to "prove" her ability as a ranch owner, she is snookered into pretending to be a 14 year old kid who is looking for room and board and will assist three English aristocrats who have won a ranch in a poker game and who know absolutely nothing about ranching. Jessie's masquerade succeeds with "Ace" but the other two Englishmen know something is not right about this kid and one of these gentlemen figures out almost immediately that she is a female. Yet she knows her stuff and actually begins to teach them about ranching. Their enterprise is up and running and at least has a reasonable chance of succeeding because of her knowledge which has been a part of her life since she was a little kid.
In reality, Jessie's brother wants to see her married and believes that these three aristocrats--one is the third son of an earl and all are second and third sons with no expectations of any inheritance--have the breeding and education in treating a woman with care and respect. This is especially important in Jessie's case as her early years were filled with disregard and abuse. She came to believe that the only creature who loved her was her horse. Jessie's brother also believes that Ace Langford will be open to marrying his sister as she is a member of the primary family in that region of Montana--an American equivalent of British family of social standing.
In the two previous novels in this series, two other brides end up in polyamorous marriages and those women make an appearance in this novel as well. Their counsel to Jessie--who really doesn't want to marry because there aren't any men she really trusts--makes it possible for her to begin to see marriage from a different perspective. One of my favorite scenes takes place when Jessie visits her sister-in-law and they have a "women's night" together helped along with some homemade brandy. This is certainly an education for Jessie as these two women are very open about the advantages of having more than one husband as well as the ways such wives can have to make sure that they don't get "run over" by some fairly dominant men. (Back in that time it was perfectly legal for a husband to beat his wife senseless for disobeying
I found this novel to be extremely interesting--the antics of the British greenhorns were comic and coming up against a wiley woman like Jessie who, as a hapless boy without family and connections, made their life quite difficult on some occasions was the stuff of real interest for me. It has only been in recent months that I have come to appreciate the historical novels embracing the American West of the 1800's--I pretty much stayed with the British Regency period for the most part--and I found this novel to be entertaining, witty, and quite educational. This is an author that takes the time to really learn the historical context and who takes the time to put in the hours of research, even to the point of visiting the locality with its museums and archives of one sort or another. Such background knowledge shows as she has constructed these fictional families who most probably reflect the kind of family life that was the norm in that time. It is a well-known fact that such polyamorous family configurations were more numerous than many people realized. In fact, the Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon is about a woman with two husbands
Also at the core of this story is the factor of family abuse that ran rampant in 19th century America and which was simply not taken seriously because it was "a family matter." Myriad women and children were injured or killed, or at least their lives were changed for the worst because such abuse was tolerated. The story is also about family loyalty and connection that sustains people who have little else positive in their lives. Jessie endured rape at the hand of her cousin, a man who wanted to marry her simply to get his hands on her inheritance from an aunt. Her body bore the scars from being whipped by her uncle, often for very minor infractions. That the love of her brothers brought her back from a life of hopelessness. Ultimately she found the love of three men who rebuilt her faith in herself, not as a rancher, but as a warm and giving and intelligent woman who was necessry to complete their lives. How that all comes about is the sum and substance of this novel.
This book is unabashedly erotic romance, yet there is a lot going on that is just good storytelling and even in a fictional sense adds to the reader's knowledge of this time in American history. It is about a young woman who has set some goals for herself, who has the faith that she can care for herself and who is not willing to put her future in the hands of a grasping and unprincipled man in order to be seen as socially acceptable. In fact, she really doesn't care what people think of her and that attitude ultimately gets her in trouble with some of the men in her life. Reece Butler had proven the ability to write a novel that hangs together like good fictional romance should with interesting and lively characters, sufficient action to prevents the "yawns" and a story that moves along and doesn't stall out at some point. This novel is just a really entertaining and educational and fun read. It will be one that fans of American historical romance will really like. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5