Samantha and the Cowboy
Last month I started glomming Lorraine Heath’s books: fortunately for me she has a relatively small backlist. I had a bit of good timing, in that she had just released a new book for Avon’s young adult line: Samantha and the Cowboy. As with anyone in glom-mode, I snatched it up and read it.
Samantha Reynolds is desperate for money. Granted everyone is suffering from hard times in a post-Civil War Texas, but her family has been hit extra hard because of her father’s death a few years earlier. Her mother is trying her best, but there’s not enough money from the crops and the family is living off credit at the general store. Samantha is tired of watching her family go hungry and is willing to do anything to help – including pretending to be a boy and trying to get a job.
Matthew Hart is working his first cattle drive since returning home from the war. Even though it is his father’s herd, he’s merely a hired hand. Nonetheless, he intervenes when he sees the boy “Sam” turned away by Jake, the trail boss, for lying about his work experience. He follows the kid, recognizes the desperation in his eyes, and hires him on. Jake reluctantly allows Sam to work the herd, on the condition that Sam tells no more lies, and Matt keeps Sam in line. Matt isn’t thrilled. He just wanted to help the kid out, not have him tag around like his shadow, because if they spend time together they might become friends. The last thing Matt wants is a friend: he buried too many during the war and learned it was easier if he just didn’t care. Sam worries about the situation, too. If she spends all her time with Matt, he might just learn she’s really a girl.
While the plot line of a girl dressing up as a boy is older than the hills, I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes or thinking, “Been there, done that” reading this one. For starters, I liked how Heath kept Matt oblivious to Sam’s true identity until the last possible minute. There’s a refreshing lack of conflict over non-platonic feelings for another boy; instead, Matt views Sam as a somewhat annoying younger brother. This is clearly a concession to the younger target audience, but it was a refreshing difference anyway. I also thought the fact Sam was only 16, and passing herself off as a pre-pubescent boy much more believable than a grown woman trying the same act. There seemed to be some sexual tension between the characters, but I’m not sure if it’s because it was really there or because I’ve read so many romance novels that I’m conditioned, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, to expect it to be there.
I liked Sam. She is a lot more realistic than one would normally expect in a heroine pretending to be someone else. She’s the only one in her family to acknowledge how desperate their financial situation has become and do something about it. She’s also realistic about the fact she’s likely to be found out during the cattle drive and therefore does her best to learn everything, so she not only blends in better, but so when found out they’ll decide she’s good enough to keep her on. It’s also amusing to watch Sam realize that being a boy is harder than she thought, especially when she realizes she has feelings for Matt and can’t act on them.
While Matt was an okay hero, his thinking about why he couldn’t befriend Sam – fear of losing another friend – was overdone. Yes, it was a very valid reason, but it seemed it was mentioned a hundred times. This repetitiveness pulled me out of the story and made it hard to like his character.
Overall, Samantha and the Cowboy is a pleasant story, with its quick pace and very likable heroine. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of Heath’s regular romances, but is still quite enjoyable.