I like trilogies and series and read a lot of them. I prefer to read them in order because I like understanding the references to other characters in the book. Because of the number of references to previous happenings that arenít explained by the end of the book, The Rancherís Daughters: Behaving Herself reads like a sequel, but it isnít. Jocks chose to start her series in what feels like the middle.
Audra Garrison has exiled herself to Texas rather than face the judgment of the people in her Wyoming hometown. Her fiancť, Peter, put her in a compromising situation, hoping to force her to marry him. Even though Audra is still an innocent, she feels the disapproval of the community when she refuses to marry Peter. She chooses to move to Texas and teach school with her strict Aunt Heddy. She plans to pay meticulous attention to the Rules for Teachers and redeem herself.
Jack Harwood is a gambler who roams from town to town looking for a likely game. One miserable, rainy night, he stops to ask for shelter at the school and finds Audra alone. She almost tells him no because it would be breaking the rules, but relents because of the nasty weather. He promises to be gone before anyone else arrives in the morning.
Jack does leave, but returns to town to collect a debt. He ends up helping Ham, the town storekeeper run his business after Ham breaks his leg. Jack hasnít forgotten the pretty teacher and tries to get to know her, but the Rules for Teachers are so strict, that Audra is not supposed to associate with him at all. Despite the restrictions, Jack finds ways to get to know her better and Audra begins to rely on Jack.
Audra fights her attraction to Jack because she is so scared of disgracing herself again. Jack does want her, but realizes he must be careful or he will frighten her away. He has her questioning her blind acceptance of the rules. She gets him to think about his life and his choices.
I didnít understand how Audra got to be so uptight. Except for Aunt Heddy, her family is not portrayed as restrictive or censorious. In fact, her mother is a suffragette and her father tells her that she can come home anytime. They didnít want her to leave home in the first place. Jack was the more realistic of the two. He doesnít apologize for what he does, but when he realizes how much he wants Audra, he takes steps to become the type of person both of them can live with.
The book includes a subplot concerning the storekeeper, Ham, and Lucy, an ex-slave and laundress. The attitudes of many in Post-Civil War Texas are shown.
The references to other characters that concerned me were to the marriages of Audraís three older sisters and her older brother. Several times, comments are made about how Audraís father had not approved of any of her sistersí husbands. Since there is not further explanation, I assume the author plans to tell these stories later. (In fact, the authorís note at the end indicates that the next book will tell the story of Audraís oldest sister.). We meet her older brother, Thaddeas, a single attorney, in the story. In the epilogue, there is a reference to his sudden marriage, another possible book.
If you can ignore these concerns, you will probably enjoy watching Jack and Audra find their lives.
--B. Kathy Leitle