An Outlaw to Protect Her
Harper St. George continues her Outlaws of the Wild West series with book three, An Outlaw to Protect Her, featuring gunslinger Zane Pierce and the madam only he can protect.
Glory Winters, madam of the Victoria House, is a prosperous and independent woman who owns over half of Helena, Montana. The prosperous area is nearing statehood, and Helena is in the running to become its capital – which, Glory knows, will mean attention, an influx of new people and a lot of people looking down their noses at her brothel. But Glory has been living a double life, and her secret one threatens to emerge when someone breaks into her office and leaves behind a bone-chilling note, beginning I know who you are. It intimates that the writer was hired to find Glory, but is prepared to disappear – in exchange for a payment of five thousand dollars.
Zane Pierce and his gang have been boarding at Victoria House for weeks on the grace of Glory, a casual friend to whom he is attracted.Their stay was intended to be a short pit-stop during Zane’s quest for vengeance against Buck Derringer, a swindling murderer, while the head of their gang heals from a gunshot wound. His posse killed Buck’s son during a firefight, which has made them all wanted men.
So when Glory approaches Zane with the blackmail note he’s reluctant to help, and even more reluctant to become emotionally involved with her. He’s been badly scarred before by a romance gone sour, and after all, what kind of future can an outlaw and a brothel madam have? Glory and Zane, in spite of themselves, want to know, and find themselves magnetized together as they run from detection. But Glory needs help, and Zane – in spite of his outlaw trappings – is a gentleman at heart. So he embeds himself into her household to suss out which of the Victoria House’s employees wants to kill its mistress.
Might it be William Harvey, a dastardly local politician, who wants Victoria House in order to destroy it in favor of the coming railroad, and who wants to have Glory for his own? Could it be the dangerous, evil man Glory left behind in South Carolina? Could it be her seemingly loyal secretary Charlotte, or the new singer she hired? As the mystery unravels, Zane and Glory become more closely bound together, until they must choose between the danger of loving each other or the doom of possible death.
An Outlaw to Protect Her is an interesting experience, and a mixed one to boot. Our hero and heroine aren’t he usual sort of romantic leads Harlequin tends to showcase, which makes for quite an interesting novel.
Glory and Zane both feel like real people who have mileage on the clock. The worst part about Zane’s backstory and character besides some hokey narrative choices (such as his stereotypical soothsaying First Nations aunt) is that he’s so heartbroken about a woman whom he broke up with years ago that he constantly denies himself anything that resembles joy. I’ve read so many stories about so many heroes who’ve done this, and it’s an idea that remains charmless.
But the romance manages to work, because the couple take the time to actually bond with each other. They look into each other’s deep dark pasts without blinking, which is beautiful. And I’m not kidding – there are some massively dark topics unearthed in Glory’s past, so those triggered by child rape, violence and drug use should beware of this particular novel.
The side relationships are great – handyman Able is a wonderful supporting character, true to his family and fearless in support of Glory. Able and Glory’s friendship is sweet and feels very true to life. And the makeover scene goes to Zane, which is wonderfully refreshing.
The action is solid and interesting, and the mystery a page turner. The economics of respectability play an interesting role in the book’s emotional pull. Glory is a smart cookie and is braced for the worst the moralists can throw at her, but the fact that she has to close her brothel at all and retrain her staff says a lot about respectability politics (there are at least two corrupt politicians hanging around, for the sake of comparison).
I have to take off a few points for introducing some plot moppets so Zane and Glory won’t go through life childless. What’s wrong with their being happily childless, the cool adoptive aunt and uncle to the rest of their big extended family?
Nevertheless, An Outlaw to Protect Her is unique enough to merit a recommendation for those looking for a neat historical to warm up these waning summer days.