Set in the same universe as her debut novel, this latest from Sherri Shackelford has a small-town cozy western vibe with undercurrents of angst running below the surface. It also features one of my favorite heroine types – the “tomboy” that everybody dismisses out of hand because she’s not a “girly-girl.” For you western romance fans, think of JoBeth McCoy as a lighter version of a classic Maggie Osborne heroine.
Garrett Cain hasn’t been town marshal very long, and he took the job because it was a challenge. The last lawman was lazy and corrupt, and Garrett has had his hands full. He’s been out of town for several days transporting a prisoner, and when he arrives home he gets some devastating news. His only sibling, his sister, and her husband were killed in a house fire. His five-year-old niece, Cora, survived and Garrett, as her closest living relative, is now her guardian. With Garrett out of town on business, and with Cora’s traveling companion being a dour-faced women constantly fretting about renegade Indians scalping her, town telegraph operator, JoBeth McCoy looks after the girl until Garrett’s return. Now he’s back, overwhelmed by his grief and his new responsibilities. Cora has taken a shine to JoBeth, and naturally she’s willing to help smooth the transition for everyone.
This is a deceptively simple story that packs a few twists and turns along the way. JoBeth may be the oldest, but she’s the only girl in a family filled with rambunctious brothers. She was also raised outside of town, on a farm. So our girl is what you would classify a “tomboy.” Her brothers wouldn’t cotton to her acting like a silly girly-girl, plus there’s a lot of hard work to do around the farm. JoBeth also realized, very quickly, that she wasn’t about to back down, act silly or simple, just to impress some boy who lacks confidence or a backbone. Needless to say, she’s been lacking in the suitors department. That doesn’t mean to say that JoBeth acts like a caricature and speaks in the vernacular. No, JoBeth is just a woman who knows her own mind – a revelation and a bit suspect in the late 19th century.
Garrett is hiding a Big Secret, one that could blow the lid off his career as a lawman. It’s a dark chapter in his personal history, and while he loved his sister – he kept making excuses to stay away from her in recent years. The “she’ll be better off without me” hero school of thinking. And for the most part, she did well for herself. She married a nice man, an architect, they settled into a presumably happy marriage, and Cora came along. Now his sister is gone and Garrett will always have regrets. Into this quagmire comes JoBeth, who Garrett is immediately intrigued by. Frankly, he figures the other men in town must be blind and stupid to dismiss her, but Garrett is refreshed by her practicality and no-nonsense attitude. As he spends more time with her, the more he’s intrigued.
The author keeps things humming along with the introduction of outside conflict, namely that Garrett could end up losing custody of Cora thanks to a distant, married, relative and a murder at the local saloon. This propels the story forward to our inevitable conclusion – JoBeth and Garrett getting together. The inspirational elements are also very light in this story, with the author exploring themes of fear, forgiveness, and faith. Even if the reader isn’t particularly religious, they are themes that are relatable and play well into the story conflict. Fans of small-town contemporaries looking for a change of scenery should find a lot to like here.
A Marriage of Necessity
Gentlemen don’t court feisty straight shooters like JoBeth McCoy. Just as she’s resigned to a lifetime alone, a misunderstanding forces the spunky telegraph operator into a marriage of convenience. Wedding the town’s handsome new marshal offers JoBeth a chance at motherhood, caring for the orphaned little girl she’s come to love.
Garrett Cain will lose guardianship of his niece, Cora, if he stays single, but he knows no woman could accept the secrets he’s hidden about his past. The lawman can’t jeopardize Cora’s future by admitting the truth. Yet when unexpected danger in the small town threatens to expose Garrett’s long-buried secret, only a leap of faith can turn a makeshift union into a real family.
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