SHE HIRED HIM TO PROTECT HER TOWNI tend to enjoy Jo Goodman's western historical romances, but with The Last Renegade she definitely penned a favorite.
As the owner of the Pennyroyal Saloon and Hotel, Lorraine Berry is privy to almost everything that goes on in Bitter Springs, Wyoming—including the bloodshed plaguing its citizens. With all of the good men dying at the hands of a local rancher and his three sons, Raine hires a shootist to be the town's protector. But her handsome new employee is more than a hired hand; he's a man that keeps his guns close and his secrets closer.
BUT NOTHING COULD PROTECT HER HEART
After a chance encounter on a train, Kellen Coltrane travels to the Pennyroyal to carry out a dying man's last wish. But once he meets the hotel's fiery-haired proprietor, Coltrane finds himself assuming the role of the shootist's accomplice and agrees to protect Bitter Springs. And as he learns more about Raine's own tragedy, Coltrane can't deny his growing desire for the courageous
widow, or the urge to protect her from the threat that draws near…
It all begins with Kellen reading a dime novel while riding the train to Salt Lake City, but when a man dying of knife wounds calling himself Nat Church walks up to him that destination changes. Out of curiosity, impulse, or simply to carry out Mr. Church's last dying wish, Kellen finds himself at the Pennyroyal Saloon and Hotel in Bitter Springs, Wyoming with two guns that don't belong to him hidden in his valise and letters from a Mrs. Berry.
At the Pennyroyal Saloon and Hotel, Kellen meets the Widder Berry as she's known in town. Raine hired Nat Church, a shootist she believes will protect the good people in her town from the powerful rancher Uriah Burdick, his three sons Eli, Clay, and Isaac, and his hired hands. Good people have died or disappeared and there's a possibility that more will suffer the same fate. Raine can't stand by and watch it happen, not when she wants revenge against these men, and not when deep down she feels responsible for what is happening. Kellen Coltrane is not Nat Church, but Raine needs help and comes to believe the new handsome shootist can do just that. After meeting Lorraine Berry and finding out the extent of the town's troubles, Kellen allows her to assume that he was Mr. Church's assistant and takes on the role of protector.
The Last Renegade is tough to review only because I want to let you know how much there is to love about the story, but don't want to give too much away about the plot while doing so. I guess that right there is something to like about the book, there are surprises and revelations along the way about Raine, Kellen and the plot that keep the reader intrigued about both characters and interested in the story. Both characters are full of personal secrets, even as they are quite open about their mutual attraction and desire for each other.
The romance spans the whole book, and it's a wonderful romance. Raine and Kellen make a great couple. They are upfront about desires and feelings, and there's chemistry between them, but there's also a certain connection that the reader feels through the pages that makes this a great read. However, although there's honesty about desire and feelings in this relationship, there are personal facts they keep from each other. Some of those personal facts are revealed throughout the course of this romance while others are kept secret even from the reader until the very end. Goodman sets the stage for a few different mysteries in this western, there's a who-dun-it with a why-dun-it incorporated into it, as there are murders that take place beginning with Nat Church's on the train and continuing with others at Bitter Springs, and then we have those personal secrets kept by Raine and Kellen.
Kellen plays our sleuth in this piece and he works out the why-dun-it beautifully. The who-dun-it is also very well done. The reader may have an idea as to who is involved, but there are many gray areas in this story. The characters, the good people and even the villains of this piece, are not all portrayed as being black and white/good and bad. I think that's where Goodman really shines because you'll find that even the villains have depth of character. And the secondary characters? They really round up this story as only well developed secondary characters can do. And, I wonder if there's anyone out there who is not going to fall in love with Finn and Rabbit! (Talk about memorable characters) These two boys steal every scene where they appear. What a pair!
But this is a western, did it project that western atmosphere? Yes, it did. There are the good people of the town being bullied by the powerful local rancher and his men. Goodman captures the fear, constant anxiety, and sense of danger felt by men, women and children when those men ride into town. These sections, however, are not done in an overly gritty style, but fit the story. Yet, there are also moments when the reader understands why these people love living in the lovely little town that is Bitter Springs, Wyoming. The beauty of the landscape is there, as is the struggle to make a living from ranching, farming and other endeavors in a small, isolated western town.
All in all The Last Renegade is a very satisfying western historical romance. There is a well developed and sexy romance in the middle of what I think of as a mystery in this western historical, but there's also that undeniable western atmosphere throughout the story. Both central and secondary characters are well rounded so and there's a great sense of balance to the story with gray areas and minimal black and white moments. I absolutely recommend it as a favorite read.
Oh, and now I can't wait to read True to the Law, the next installment in this series (Finn and Rabbit appear there too!).
Category: Western Historical Romance
Series: Bitter Springs #1
Publisher/Release Date: Berkley/September 4, 2012
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