Widow Jennie McCallum has relocated to Rancho Milagro, somewhere outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, determined to convert it to a large foster care ranch for children.
The reputation of the ranch is one filled with legendary ghosts, and that appears as good a reason as any for the unexplained troubles Jennie is having. She has been dealing with contractors who are at war with the building inspectors, thus delaying key approvals. Grass fires have raged only to be replaced with storms that wash roads out. Fences have been cut and a cattle herd is missing. The last is no surprise since she doesn’t have any cowboys in her employ.
Jennie is truly out of her element. Her PhD in cultural anthropology and teaching experience at college level has not readied her for the life she has chosen since the tragic deaths of her husband and child. Nevertheless, she has acquired her first two charges, Dulce a teenage girl with a giant attitude and Jose, a young boy who has stopped speaking.
Jennie has come to town to enlist the sheriff in a search for her cattle herd and to run an ad in the paper for cowboys. She meets Chance Salazar, a rodeo cowboy. Chance is really an undercover federal marshal sent in to rid the community of the evil “El Patron.” After learning about Jennie’s misfortunes, Chance realizes El Patron must be behind it, in an effort to run her off and acquire the land.
Therefore he decides to go deeper undercover and take the cowboy job at the ranch. The rest as they say is history and as predictable as death and taxes. That would not be so bad, but Jennie and Chance never truly evolve as characters beyond our first meeting. They fall into lust early on, but when characters without much depth act upon this desire, it falls pretty flat.
Perhaps the most improbable part of the book is the theme of the woman struggling alone with 14,000 acres to run her cattle ranch and a foster care facility, while her own expertise is cultural anthropology. Some part of a story needs to feel that it could be real for me to continue reading. Would I have finished this book, if I were not reviewing it? Probably not.
This is not to say that Marilyn Tracy is not a talented writer. Her “Almost, Texas” series offered well-developed, interesting characters in credible circumstances with many additional features to recommend it. A new reader should start there.