Trailboss just missed being an outstanding read. If it had been a bit more closely edited and had a little more sexual tension to it, this would have been a keeper for sure. As it was, Trailboss lingered in my mind much longer than most western romances these days, and there are some very good reasons for that.
The plot turns around the Johnson County Wars in Wyoming, during which time cattlemen and sheep ranchers were at deadly odds. The story centers on lonely Susannah Bidwell and her attempt to keep her small sheep operation going after her parents and three brothers have become victims of the “war.” Only her dog, Sweetie Pie, remains.
Ned Parker, Texas trailboss, was a close friend of Susannah’s late grandmother. Swearing to the old lady on her deathbed to deliver a letter to her granddaughter way up in Wyoming, Ned leaves trailbossing for a while to do this last thing for his friend. When Ned first meets Susannah, she had just been victimized by night riders who shoot up the place, so she’s so suspicious of Ned, shoots at him, then whacks him on the shins while Sweetie Pie growls fiercely.
Susannah is beautiful, even under her rags, and Ned is handsome. They make a fine couple, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the townsfolk and a rival gentleman caller. But, as Ned stays on to help Susannah fend off danger and hopefully catch the killers, the attraction grows between them slowly. Although Susannah toys with idea that marrying Ned would be a very nice thing, he has stated he will never marry – a trailboss can’t have a wife and kids following him all over the country. When Ned’s thoughts turn to marriage with Susannah, he quashes them. He believes himself a coward, and what good woman would want a useless man around – one who couldn’t even protect her when the time came.
There are plenty of secondary characters, none of whom are from central casting. All have strengths and foibles, just like regular folks. Susannah is smart and strong and Ned is quiet and stalwart, despite his own opinion of himself. These are real people, not cardboard western characters, and that’s one of the reasons why this book stuck with me long after I’d turned the last page. There are some flaws here and there, but I honestly didn’t care, which is rare for me. The central themes were so strong and the characters so well drawn, I wanted to finish this book, no matter what.
Trailboss may not be for everyone; there are no chest-pounding, arrogant heroes (although Ned is used to command, and when he gets down to business, he doesn’t let anybody mess with him). Ned doesn’t like guns and killing. When he crosses paths with Indians, he’d rather talk to them and negotiate a trade rather then blow them away to the Happy Hunting Ground. He’s a reasonable man and not a macho jerk, and the reader cannot help but become very fond of him very quickly. There’s lots of kissin’ but only one love scene. But that’s okay. Ned may have been on the trail a long time, but when it comes down to the bedroom, he knows just what to do.
Elizabeth Butler writes well and I enjoyed her style very much. Don’t let the fact that this a self-published book, or that it’s the author’s brother in the cover photo, put you off. Just because Trailboss didn’t come out of New York doesn’t mean a thing. The characters felt real to me, the tone of the story was historically rich, and the love between the hero and heroine was a perfect fit. I enjoyed this book because it was not the cookie-cutter kind of story we’re used to getting. It’s a little different, a little bittersweet, and has one of the sweetest last lines I’ve read in a while. If you’re looking for a subtle and refreshing change from the usual western romance, I recommend rounding up Trailboss.