Any historical western romance fan has their own memorial wall of authors who abandoned the American West to write about Prinny, Almack’s terrible lemonade, and Beau Brummel. There’s so many of them we’ve lost count. The cemetery is full and overflowing. Which means that when an author goes the opposite way? They dump England to write a western? I take notice really quickly. Julia Justiss has written a number of really good Regencies for Harlequin over the years, so when I saw her name on a western, I knew I had to read it. And you know what? It’s pretty good.
Scandal with a Rancher is an historical prequel to the Whiskey River series, contemporary romances written by Eve Gaddy and Katherine Garbera. The genesis for Justiss’ story is that it tells the romance of the town founder, Ronan “Booze” Kelly, an Irishman who owns a general store and distributor of fine spirits, and Marguerite McMasters, a Tejana beauty now widowed and determined to start the horse breeding ranch that was the dream she and her dead husband shared.
Marguerite loved her husband, and now that he is gone, she is more determined than ever to hang on to the land they purchased – a beautiful spot by the river, ideal for starting their horse breeding ranch. So she takes a job as the town schoolmarm, which pays a small pittance, so she can keep up the payments. It hasn’t been easy, but she’s been making it work – not an easy task since it’s a small miracle she got the job at all. There are some in town, including the snooty and vain banker’s wife, who don’t think someone of Marguerite’s *ahem* heritage should be teaching the town’s children.
Booze is fairly standard issue Romance Hero Rogue. He’s a womanizer, a charming flirt, and has a reputation for playing around. Nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks this guy will ever “settle down.” But Marguerite lights a fire in him and he can’t seem to stay away. Even though the attentions of the most notorious playboy in town is the last thing she needs. For her part – Marguerite cannot seem to steer clear of Booze. Here’s a man who sets her pulse racing for the first time since her husband died and boy howdy – our girl is finally realizing how much she misses having a man around.
The conflict is mostly external in the form of the banker’s wife. She’s beautiful in her own right, plays around behind her husband’s back (who happens to be Booze’s BFF) and if she’s going to be forced to live in a tiny backwater town, by god she’s at least going to run things. What I appreciate about her is that while she’s sneaky and vile, the author doesn’t try to do too much by way of redemption. It stays pretty true-to-life. Marguerite and Booze falling in love does have consequences – namely friendships are tested and don’t always survive. Marguerite and Booze end up winning in the end, but this isn’t an instance where everyone hugs it out and everything is right as rain.
The banter is flirty and the chemistry is very solid between our romantic couple. The only gripe I have is that there is quite a bit of mental lusting that became tedious after a while and the fact that Marguerite trusts Booze fairly quickly. He initially makes a proposal to buy her land, which she turns down, and then he drops it. BUT – he keeps coming around her, puts her reputation in a precarious situation with the townspeople and he’s BFF’s with the banker. Booze is our hero, so, of course, he isn’t plotting against her, but she doesn’t know that. So to have her barely consider that as a possibility felt a little off to me.
Still this is a pleasant, and quickly read, historical western. It didn’t change my life, but I liked it while I was reading it, and I would imagine for readers already fans of the contemporary series that this prequel historical will be a welcome treat.
After building a trading empire, establishing Whiskey River, and charming most of the females south of the Pedernales, Ronan “Booze” Kelly finds himself restless. Until his idea to start a ranch leads him to widowed rancher Marguerite McMasters. The Tejana beauty claims she’ll never sell her land—or succumb to the fiery connection between them.
Marguerite will let nothing stop her from realizing her dream of running a horse-breeding ranch—not lack of money, and certainly not her strong attraction to Booze Kelly. Much as she misses a man’s embrace, a schoolmarm can’t risk everything she has for him.
But there’s nothing Booze loves more than a challenge, whether it’s a new enterprise to begin—or a lady to beguile. Despite her convictions, can Marguerite continue to resist Booze—or will Booze be exactly what she never knew she was missing?
Other books in this series: