What’s a Prickly Pear, I wondered? Being from the Northeast, I had no clue. After a little web research I found this definition which I found pretty hilarious once I began the story: Prickly Pear, Opuntia compressa (OPUHU), is a cactus which grows on sandy soils of South Jersey and also on rocky outcroppings of Central Jersey. When present in turf it is extremely undesirable. It has a handsome yellow flower in early June to July.
The book starts out in a canteen/whore house. Our heroine, dressed as a boy, is smoking, drinking and gambling. She’s also cheating, a hanging offense in those there parts. Luckily, in walks our hero, Wade, who saves her when the ruffians she was cheating catch on and threaten to beat the life out of her. Wade, in an attempt to teach the “boy” an embarrassing lesson, throws her over his knee and gives her a sound wallop on the behind. This is all before he takes a gander at the behind, of course, and realizes that it’s too well rounded to belong to a boy. After this less than auspicious set-up, I had some serious doubts about continuing, but there was just enough humor to hook me.
Cam(ille), aka The Prickly Pear of the Panhandle, whose mother died when she was two, grew up surrounded by men and believes she can do anything the cowhands can do, only better. Now that the Circle C Ranch foreman is ready to retire, she believes she is the best choice to become his replacement. She’s not your typical feisty heroine, with shaky motives, though. She has a deeper, heartfelt reason for wanting to be manly. When Cam was eight, she caused an accident that crippled her father and killed her brother. She has spent her life since then trying to make up for the accident. She believes that if she becomes more like the son her father lost, than he will finally forgive and love her.
Wade, of course, wants the Circle C Ranch for reasons of his own, and takes the first step in obtaining it by applying for the job of foreman. He nearly secures the position when Cam conveniently bursts into her dad’s office during the interview. Not willing to let some dang greenhorn waltz in and take over her dream, she demands that she be given a chance to prove that she’s a far better choice than Wade. Her father acquiesces, believing she’ll fail, and gives them a month to outdo each other. The best foreman wins the job.
You can pretty much see where the plot is going from there, right? These two hot-tempered characters battle it out until nearly the last page. And, although their heated exchanges are often amusing, and the sexual tension between them is sweltering, the action packed story has way too many frustrating plot elements.
Wade, is a typical western hero who has a soul-eating secret that he’s trying to put behind him. He’s the kind of guy you’ve no doubt read about many times before. The type who has spent plenty of time in the beds of whores but has never allowed a woman into his heart. Cam, naturally, gets under his skin, but he refuses to openly admit it. Wade is everything one expects from a stubborn alpha hero; he’s sexy, bossy, protective, and a real take-charge kind of guy. However, he spends far too much time thinking about visiting a whore to “release some of the frustration building in him” for the sensibilities of this 90’s girl. He never actually goes through with the deed but the continued thought of it was enough to turn me off. Also, his secret, when revealed, will either make you ache for him or despise what he once was.
So does our heroine deserve her nefarious nickname? You betcha! She has a red-hot temper and gets touchy when her talents come into question. Fortunately, she wasn’t as prickly as some heroine’s I’ve read lately, mostly because of her wicked tongue and talent for a quick come-back. Without her sense of humor, which had me grinning more than once, she would have been too much. She is impulsive and emotional, which unfortunately makes her seem too stupid to live all too often. Her boneheaded stunts continue throughout the book and only get more painful to read as the book nears its end.
And, maybe it’s just me, but do you also lose patience with couples who decide to profess their undying love and finally feel free to be honest with one another on the next to last page of the book? Makes one kind of doubt their happily-ever-after, doesn’t it?
Prickly Pear is a difficult book to review, because despite its problems, parts of it are genuinely amusing, sensual and moving. If you’re not overly bothered by the above mentioned quibbles, and enjoy bawdy humor and an action packed western with a very familiar plot, Prickly Pear may be more of the book for you than it was for me. I have a feeling Ronda Thompson’s contemporary (and Desert Isle Keeper) Isn’t it Romantic? might be a little more my style, though.