A Stolen Time
by Shari Boullion
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5229-6
Janet Garret had been running with her family outlaw gang for so long that she knows no other kind of life - then her beloved father is killed during a robbery attempt. She takes a bullet in the shoulder, and Janet is forced to wound a lawman, blowing his leg to bits. With the Garret gang now down to just her and her baby brother - Janet decides she needs to lay low for a while.

Her salvation comes when Janet learns that tiny Shasta, California is looking for a new schoolmarm. While Janet has never been to school in her life, she does know how to read, write and count money - so she’s hired on the spot. Unfortunately, the town marshal is a suspicious man, and Dagger Blackthorne immediately knows there is more to Miss Janet “Danner” than she’s letting on.

Suspicions aside, Dagger soon finds himself intrigued by the schoolmarm who is part starched collar and part saloon girl. Janet has an aversion to lawmen, but also finds she is falling for the handsome, loner marshal. However, what will happen when he learns she’s a member of the notorious Garret gang, and she was the one who crippled his brother in that shootout?

I’m always on the lookout for good westerns, and Boullion’s debut endears itself to me with its unusual storyline and heroine. While an outlaw hiding among civilized folk is a well-worn plot in western romances - how often does one see a lady outlaw? Janet is resourceful, intelligent, and thinks fast on her feet. She does bring suspicion onto herself, but only after she manages to knock a bully out and shoot a rattlesnake to pieces. While she knows nothing of running a schoolhouse, she adapts admirably and I found myself wishing I had a teacher like her when I was in grade school.

Dagger is unfortunately not as firmly fleshed out as Janet is. It takes a while for the author to build up his story, and frankly, I walked away with pieces of a puzzle that didn’t quite fit. For example, the author informs the reader that Dagger lived among Indians as a child, and that his family searched for him “for years.” Then later on in the book, it is mentioned that his parents died, and he and his two brothers had to raise themselves. So when was Dagger with the Indians and when was he with his family?

The timeline is also a bit off, which keeps A Stolen Time from being an entirely smooth read. The author jumps ahead in time quite a bit - days and weeks from chapter to chapter. Also, the segues into the next chapter aren’t entirely smooth. I found myself reading the last pages of chapters again when the start of the next chapter would shift abruptly. This all seemed like debut markings, and Boullion’s writing style is otherwise nice and breezy.

The story does read as if it’s the middle book in a series, especially since Boullion introduces Dagger’s married brother and sister-in-law. Since the author seems to be leaning towards giving a story to crippled brother, Blade - a prequel featuring brother Bowie wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

One would think that a story featuring a lady outlaw with a big secret to hide would be a serious book - but A Stolen Time has several light-hearted moments. While I found the writing a little uneven and the ending a little sappy, Boullion has some nice ideas. It’s always nice to see an author write a heroine with a past, and lady outlaw Janet is certainly the highlight of this debut. It will be interesting to see where Boullion goes from here.

--Wendy Crutcher

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