Just in time for the holidays, Anna DeForest gives us A Cowboy for Christmas. Despite a title that is a little too cute, this absorbing turn-of-the-century western has a family in deep trouble and a reluctant hero who can't walk away from them.
At nineteen, almost twenty, Robin Matthews is the eldest of four children. Since her parents were killed in an accident three years earlier, she has just barely managed to keep the family ranch running. Most of the difficulty has come from their wealthy neighbor and land grabber, Vance Sutherland. He owns the local sheriff and has intimidated several of the other area ranchers out of business. Lately, his tactics have become even
more blatant at the hands of his ranch foreman and bastard son, Rick Dyer.
Robin sets out on her own to find part of her cattle herd that has been rustled by Sutherland's men. As she is sneaking up on the rustlers, she is surprised by a man who is also watching them. He thinks she is a young boy and crazy to take on four men at once. He decides to help her because he thinks she will get killed on her own, despite having a pretty good plan. They retrieve the cattle, but Robin is shot in the pursuit.
Ex-Deputy U.S. Marshal Nathaniel Hollister discovers that the wounded boy is really a young woman when he tends to her wound. He does not want to get involved, but he can't leave her injured. He had resigned his job because the last shoot-out he and his men had had with a band of bank robbers had resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. He has been traveling around the West using his mother's maiden name so that he won't be recognized. He plans to get Robin back to her ranch and leave, but when he sees the rest of her family and the needs of the ranch, he can't just walk away.
Nathaniel is a world-weary guy. At thirty-four, he has had a lot of heartache and is afraid of risking any more. He fights his attraction to Robin because he thinks she deserves a man who is younger and less jaded. Robin has spent so much time in men's clothing working the ranch that she no longer thinks herself much of a woman. She is determined to save the ranch and has had little time for anything else. A traumatic episode has also left her skittish around most men. She is surprised that she is attracted to Nathaniel. The relationship between them develops slowly with both of them backing down several times.
The landscape and the other family and friends add greatly to the story. The beauty of the Western land shines through DeForest's descriptions. You can see why Robin fights so hard to keep the ranch. Robin's twin brothers, sister, and the two orphaned children who also live with them are integral parts of the story as are the local school teacher and even Nathaniel's brother, a bounty hunter who visits to check on Nathaniel. The villains are pretty vile, but even they receive enough attention so that we learn part of why they act the way they do.
The Christmas part of the story is important to the final resolution of the book. So, in between shopping, baking, and decorating, take time to read a feel-good Christmas story that isn't just fluff.
--B. Kathy Leitle