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Beckett’s Birthright
by Bronwyn Williams
(Harl. Hist. #633, $ 5.25, G) ISBN 0-373-29233-3
***
The writing pair of Mary Williams and Dixie Browning have concocted an unremarkable tale set on a cattle farm at the turn of the century in North Carolina. Interesting in some ways, the story drags in places and is purely character driven.

Beckett’s Birthright is the title, but there is no Beckett and no birthright. Delilah Jackson is the unwanted daughter of Burke Jackson, owner of the Bar J ranch. Burke is a mean and coarse man, who wanted a son. When presented with a daughter, one who was large for her age and headstrong, he shipped her off to boarding schools. She vowed to return and run the ranch. Now at age 22, she returns from college determined to succeed.

Lilah is lovely, although described as tall and big. She can ride, spit, curse and work as hard as any man. She knows nothing about the ranch and the operations yet she wants to be in charge.

She has met her match in the form of foreman Eli Chandler. Eli is a complex man. He has a background in many things, one of which is western ranching. He actually owns land in Oklahoma. He is in North Carolina on the trail of a gambler who kidnapped his fiancée. For two years he has followed this man he knows only as “Chips”. He isn’t even sure this woman, whom he really barely knew, is still alive. But he feels honor bound to keep looking for her. He decides to work at the Bar J while he searches for further clues. Of course, his search ends here.

Attracted to Lilah from the start, Eli is amazed that she can be so stubborn and yet naïve. He offers to teach her things, as he understands her need to show her father. Burke, meanwhile, is acting as if he is dying. He offers the ranch and his daughter’s hand to anyone who can claim it. Eli turns him down due to his quest. Yet as time goes on, he finds himself attracted to Lilah as a woman. Lilah falls in love with Eli, but is darned if she will let him know.

The entire story centers on Lilah’s need to show her father while Eli struggles with his growing feelings and his need to finish what he started. The love story is tepid, with little sexual tension and only two kisses. Yet these kisses keep Lilah on fire and Eli aware of Lilah as a woman.

Neither Lilah nor Eli stood out to me as strong characters. Lilah wavers from strong woman who knows her own mind to silly chit pouting and throwing a tantrum. Her friend Isobel is a plain wallflower who shows more sense and understanding, yet is so timid she follows whatever Lilah says. (There is the hint of a romance between Isobel and one of the ranch hands, but while mentioned in passing, it is never developed.)

Eli likes his job and enjoys the ranch. He takes pride in his job and is a manly type of man. He shows some feeling for Lilah, but never really takes a stand either on what is going on at the ranch or with Lilah. He just kind of goes with the flow. This is true even when Burke is a brute to Lilah, saying unpleasant things to her. Eli just stands by, feeling badly, but not wanting to get in the middle. Eli is definitely not the white knight riding to the rescue.

There are hints of humor that tickled but didn’t really develop into the fun it promised. When Burke declares Lilah is up for grabs, men from all around come courting. What could have been vastly humorous scenarios were seen through Eli’s eyes and only cursorily described. Another time, Lilah and Eli went out checking fence and ended up spending the day enjoying each other’s company. While we were led to believe this was the day that their attraction blossomed, there wasn’t much description to show the reader how it blossomed.

Beckett’s Birthright is one of those stories that maintains your interest enough to finish, but once you get done, you wonder where the substance is. Unremarkable seems to be the best description I can offer.

--Shirley Lyons


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