Maggie Bullock's father needed expensive medical care and if that meant stealing from their friendly swindling banker, so be it. Once her father was on the path to recovery she would face the consequences. The whole thing was surprisingly easy until she's kidnapped by bounty hunter Dean Collier.
Collier is tired of tracking down worthless scum. He's afraid he'll lose his last scrap of humanity and become a stone-cold killer, just like the men he brings to justice. He jumps at the chance to become sheriff of Fresh Springs, Arizona. The one condition—capture Maggie.
He figured it'd be easy. Until beautiful, loyal Maggie breaks through defenses he'd thought cemented. His feelings for her run the range from fury to confusion to love, but if he doesn't bring her in someone else will. Can there be a future between a sheriff and a fugitive?
The presence of law enforcement in the Territories of America's West was spotty at best--depending on the town having a local sheriff or possible a U. S. Marshall who rode the trails from town to town. Often the local townspeople took it upon themselves to solve their crime problems with a poorly planned lynching or by getting up enough collective backbone to run a gang out of town. The use of bounty hunters was far more common in those days even though we know they exist today, usually to apprehend bail jumpers. In this story, there appears to be a simple case of a bank robber who must be caught and returned for trial. But don't kid yourself: there's lots more going on than that!
The main characters are both people who have experienced loss, who have had to learned to adapt to the harsh realities of living in the Western Territories and who have had to find a way to keep their humanity intact. The bounty hunter is hardened, not only by the revenge killing of his wife and son, but by the self-inflicted hurts of the past five years. His sense of failure at protecting his family from angry criminals has never left him, and as a result, he cares little for the quality of his life or the people around him. Now he has one last chance to redeem a life that has gone sour. By apprehending Maggie Bullock, Dean can be assured of being made sheriff, a position he feels is one that will prevent him from going over the edge into the darkness that threatens his soul.
Maggie, on the other hand, has simply done the only thing she could do: she has found a way to pay for expensive medical treatment for her dad by robbing the local bank. Owned and operated by a man who had always appeared to be a close friend of her father's, Maggie was astounded when her plea for a loan to pay medical expenses was turned down and done in such a way that Maggie thought she caught a glimpse of the bank owner having some fun at her's and her father's expense. Now she has taken that same man's gold and traveled to a special new clinic in Texas where her father is showing definite signs of improved health.
Obviously riding side by side on horseback for three weeks, camping out each night, occasional baths in flowing streams with little privacy--all served to break down the walls Dean had built against giving in to any sort of attraction to Maggie. Didn't work!! Before it was all over, they found that each had gotten "under the skin" of the other. The one overriding issue was, though, that Maggie faced a lengthy prison sentence in the Yuma Prison, a fact that put the kabosh on any kind of relationship.
But as I intimated at the beginning of this review, there is more here than meets the eye. Somehow there is the sense that all is not well in the friendship between Maggie's father and Mr. Masterson, the banker. This becomes even more evident when Masterson sends one of his "guards" to travel with Maggie & Dean, and turns out to be a man with little conscience, no respect for Maggie or any woman, and a man prone to solve all his problems with violence. It also appeared that Maggie would not be safe from Masterson's "personal attentions" (ahem! we know what that means, don't we?) until the circuit judge arrived for a trial.
This novel is full of twists and turns, keeping the reader wondering how this is all going to work out for Maggie, wondering if there was any hope at all for a romance and a future for Maggie & Dean, and that niggling suspicion that there was trouble afoot before it was all said and done. Even though Dean has been scarred by his loss, he is put back in touch with his humanity more than he realizes as he is exposed to Maggie's unwavering loyalty to her father, her open and honest expression of her attraction for him, and her acceptance of her fate. He shares parts of his personal history with her that he has never shared in five years. I found the account of their growing relationship to be compelling reading, flowing so well toward what appeared to be inevitable conclusion when they arrived in Maggie's hometown.
There are lots of surprises in this story, so much so that I never really figured it out ahead of time. The ending is a complete surprise, and the resolution of Dean & Maggie's story was totally unanticipated by me. Ms Brown captivated me with her storytelling ability, the way she kept the narrative moving forward, the clearly delineated characters, and dialogue that was so well done that it not only exposed the nature and personality of the characters to the reader but also intimated that something sinister was waiting just around the corner. This is a delightful historical romance filled with color, passion, a bit of mystery, and that sense of family and community that marked life in the Old West. Lovers of historical romance would do well to get this book. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.
This novel is being released by Carina Press during July 2011.