Knight on the Texas Plains
Sometimes a book comes along that takes a standard formula and polishes it up well. Knight on the Texas Plains is like that: in spite of several flaws, it’s a nice, well-crafted marriage-of-convenience story.
A man stakes his infant daughter at a poker game. Duel McClain is a world-weary drifter without much to live for, but he can’t stand to see a man treating a child that way. He wins the girl, Marley Rose, and takes her in, though he doesn’t know anything about caring for a baby. That same night, he encounters a battered, bloody, terrorized woman named Jessie. He takes her in as well, promising not to hurt her. When she shows a knack for tending the baby, he offers her safe passage, and the three of them journey together to Duel’s family home. By the time they get there, Duel adores the baby and wants to keep her. He asks Jessie to stay on to care for Marley. To protect her reputation, he proposes marriage.
Jessie is reluctant to accept. She is on the run from the law: she shot and killed her abusive husband. Duel’s own brother is a Texas Ranger, assigned to find her and bring her to trial.
One of the nice things about this book is that there are no Big Secrets, although there are plenty of opportunities for them. Jessie immediately tells Duel about her past. Duel is that rare creature, a genuinely nice and honorable hero. He treats her with gentleness and respect, so it’s easy to understand why she falls in love with him. The growth of their relationship is slow and sweet and very romantic.
The book is not perfect. Broday, a novice writer, resorts to purple prose often, not just in the love scenes, and the final chapters are a bit too drenched in sentimentality for my taste. Little Marley Rose is just too cute – no, really, she is too cute. Toddlers are precious, but sometimes they’re also very challenging, and we never see that side of this particular child. She’s a little angel from heaven, all the time. The book features way too much use of Western dialect – in my opinion the words “darn tootinest” should not appear in any book that isn’t a biography of Yosemite Sam. And what kind of family would name a boy “Duel?”
Finally, I have an accuracy quibble. At one point a character – a lawyer – says that the First Amendment of the Constitution “gives everyone the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It does no such thing. That phrase is not to be found anywhere in the U.S.Constitution. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, from which no legal rights are derived.
Those things distracted from the central romance, but they didn’t kill it. The relationship between Jessie and Duel is one of compassion, kindness, mutual healing, and love. It gave my romantic side a warm glow, and for that I recommend it. Broday has some kinks to work out, but I won’t hesitate to pick up her next book.