Last Chance Ranch
At first glance, Last Chance Ranch looks like a tale told thousands of times before. The heroine is a woman who dresses like a man and knows as much about ranching as any man you’ll meet. The hero is the second son of an earl, sent to the Texas Panhandle to prove himself to his exacting father. While this book is not flawless, or wildly original, it is smoothly written, and the hero and heroine talk and share with each other in a way that seems rare in the romance world.
Reginald Worthington, son of the Earl of Devonshire, has almost made a career of failure. When he was in the navy, he had trouble following orders. When he managed a tea plantation in India, it went bankrupt. Now he has been sent to Texas to manage a ranch purchased by a syndicate of British investors. He knows next to nothing about ranching, but he’s determined to make a go of it.
He meets Abbie Waters when he accidentally trespasses on her land. From a distance she looks like a man, but when he gets closer to her he can tell that the figure inside the mannish clothes is definitely a womanly one. She pulls a gun on him at first, but he ends up helping her pull a cow from the mire. A few days later they attend a party together and strike up a deal – Abbie will teach Reg what she knows about ranching, and he will give her advice on how to be a lady and land a husband.
Abbie has long dreamed of marrying and having children, but her father raised her like a boy, and none of her eligible neighbors thinks of her as feminine. She sets her sights on her long-time friend and fellow rancher, Alan Mitchell. Reg teaches her to dance and gives her pointers on flirting, and he even finds her a maid to sew some dresses and do her hair. Meanwhile, Abbie gives Reg advice on choosing stock and guides him through his first round-up. But as they spend so much time together, their feelings deepen. Soon each sees the other as more of a lover than a business partner. Their relationship seems impossible; Reg is duty-bound to return to England in a year, and Abbie can’t see herself living anywhere but on her ranch. Can two people from such different backgrounds find truly find happiness together?
I was quite skeptical of this book – and this couple – at first. I feared that they would come across as contrived and one-dimensional. But they really surprised me. While they were together they actually talked about their hopes, dreams and challenges. Their conversations had an unexpected depth to them, and they made the characters seem more real. Suddenly this romance wasn’t just about the stuffy Englishman and the spitfire Texas girl. Perhaps I have just read one too many “Big Misunderstanding” books recently, but I found it very refreshing that Reg and Abbie actually communicated with each other in a meaningful way. It made their relationship believable.
There are some nice secondary characters who add to the story as well. Alan Mitchell isn’t a stereotypical “other man” – he’s a nice guy, and he even gets a romance of his own. Even more intriguing is Reg’s brother Cameron (whose story will be told in the next book). Cameron is actually a Reverend, but he’s quite a lively and handsome one, and he adds to Reg and Abbie’s story. There is also a plot involving a villain, and it’s resolved in an unexpected way.
There are a couple of problems that throw the book off just a bit. The first is that it seems a little slow at times. This made it a bit hard to get into the book at first, but at about the halfway point everything kicks into gear. The other problem is the Reg seems a little too beholden to his father. Family duty is one thing, but it takes virtually the whole book for Reg to realize that he doesn’t have to do every little thing his father tells him to do. For a grown man, he seems way too hung up on pleasing Daddy.
Still, I found this book much better than I expected. A hero and heroine who talk to each other – imagine that! If you enjoy westerns, you might want to give it a try. And I may just stay tuned for Cameron’s story. Not only is he likable, but you don’t see many western romances with reverend heroes.