When Allan Pinkerton uncovered a counterfeiting ring and helped the local sheriff track down the leader he had no idea he would be changing careers and changing the face of law enforcement forever. When Miranda Hunt, the heroine of our novel, took an assignment on an Arizona cattle ranch for the Pinkerton agency, she had no idea her life would change forever, too.
Miranda Hunt has long been frustrated by the problems facing the modern woman in the work force. As a female employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency she must be twice as clever, careful and thorough as her male counterparts. It seems she is constantly proving herself. When an assignment she is on results in the apprehension of The Society Thief, she is almost certain that it will mean the bigger and better assignments she has been hoping for. Even if she did accidentally shoot a corpse while apprehending the criminal.
She is right regarding the assignments. An outlaw known as the Phantom has been robbing stage coaches, trains and banks throughout the Arizona Territory. The Pinkerton agency believes they have a clue as to his location: The Last Chance Ranch seems to be centered right in the middle of all the action. Conveniently, the owner of the ranch has just advertised for an heiress. Miranda becomes Annie Beckman and sets out to catch herself a criminal.
She gets off to a rousing start by actually being a victim to one of his robberies. When her own train is held up she gets a good look at one of the bandits, a handsome and charming rogue if there ever was one. When the gang is quickly apprehended by the sheriff (minus the leader) she is almost sorry to hear that the man will be hanged. She is certainly surprised to find him strutting about Last Chance Ranch not a week later, acting as though it were the most natural thing in the world to go from hanged man to cattle puncher.
Wells Fargo detective Jeremy Taggert is determined to find the man known only as the Phantom. His best friend has gone missing while chasing the elusive criminal and the last information he was able to send indicated the man was somehow associated with the Last Chance Ranch. Working with the local sheriff Jeremy was able to get in with the gang but that plan went bust when the group was apprehended. His newest plan is to become a ranch hand named Branch at Last Chance and see if he can track the criminal in his lair. He hadn’t counted on feisty Annie Beckman, who recognizes him from the train job. Since he is pretty sure she is involved with the Phantom in some way as well he manages to come to a working agreement with her. The two begin an elaborate game of cat and mouse without realizing they are both playing the role of cat.
This lighthearted western does a delightful job of combining history, mystery, comedy and romance to arrive at a satisfying HEA. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Miranda and Taggert who make a good partnership and a lovely couple. I was glad the author did not drag us through a long Big Misunderstanding regarding the roles they were both playing but let that little mystery peter out before it grew old. I also liked how they worked at being detectives and how well they worked together at it. Taggert specialized in making contacts, establishing connections with the bank president and the sheriff right away. Miranda specialized in research, creating complete dossiers on the men working the ranch quickly and efficiently. Both had a good eye for detail and picked up what each other missed.
They also have a lot in common in their family lives. They were both shaped by their fathers, both by the lives the men led and by their deaths. Both take their faith seriously, both take their jobs seriously. They are driven professionals, detail oriented but also both have caring hearts. That warmth is something that makes them fit in well at Last Chance. Normally when a couple are too much alike it doesn’t work for me but here it does because Miranda and Taggert not only have to get along romantically but professionally. They do that very well, becoming two people who swing into step beside each other with a reasonable amount of ease.
I also liked that while the author had the two in competition for most of the book (each wanted the credit for apprehending the Phantom) she utilized the right kind of bickering to establish the relationship between them. They teased, they played a game of one-upmanship but they didn’t degrade into nastiness or insults. I always have troubles extending my disbelief for an HEA for a couple that spent most of the tale snarling at each other. I was glad that didn’t happen here.
While the book has some silly moments these are doled out in small amounts and become a fun, rather than irritating, part of the whole. Equally well-proportioned were the religious elements of the tale. No one makes sweeping speeches but each character has their own faith and they share some of that with others in a natural way. The author also did a great job with the mystery. It was difficult for me to pick out the culprit and yet when he was revealed it made perfect sense that he was the man (even if his logic for his crimes was deeply flawed).
This is the third book in the series but you don’t need to read the first two in order to enjoy this one.
If you are looking for a lighthearted western read this might just be the novel you have been looking for. I am happy to recommend it to fans of the Inspirational Market.