Trouble In Store
What do you do when your life blows up? If you are the type of heroine I prefer, you dust yourself off and move on. That is exactly what happens with the main character of this novel after she is betrayed, rejected, and finds herself clutching at the smallest of opportunities in the hope of starting again.
Melanie Ross does not have it easy, but her position is at least one of honor and security. As a governess to a fine family in Ohio, she has a roof over her head, three square meals a day, and a small but sufficient salary. All that changes when one of her young charges sends his pony galloping over a fence and falls off. Blamed for the unfortunate accident and assured that she is not only fired but will never work again in Ohio, Melanie packs her trunks and boards a train to Arizona. Her late uncle had a mercantile there. His business partner assured her that she was welcome to come out at any time to pick up her uncle’s belongings and stay awhile. She hopes she can turn that invitation into a job.
When Caleb Nelson inherited the Ross and Nelson Mercantile from his uncle he had had no idea just how difficult it would be to raise a small son and single-handedly run the community’s largest mercantile. He feels exhausted at the end of every day. When Melanie Ross walks in and tries to assume half his business he is flabbergasted. His uncle had inherited his partner’s half of the business, not this brazen young woman. And yet Caleb is reluctant to pursue the legal side of the issue. The elderly partners seemed to have had more of a verbal agreement than a written one, and as a pretty young woman in the West, Melanie has a distinct advantage over him. He reluctantly allows Melanie to move into her uncle’s old rooms above the facility and begin to work in the store. The two spend most of their days at cross purposes since Melanie wants to pretty the place up to attract female customers and Caleb is convinced that the old ways are the best ways.
Adding to the troubles the two face are the rambunctious nature of Caleb’s son Levi, Melanie’s many suitors, and the saboteur who seems determined to get rid of both of them. Melanie finds it hard to be patient with young Levi. After what happened at her former position, she is inclined to think of young boys as liars and pests. As far as the older boys, she is not sure what to make of her popularity with the men of the town. Many of them have proposed just moments after meeting her. The more persistent haunt the store hoping that she will eventually agree to marry one of them. But as the saboteur slowly escalates his attacks it becomes clear to her that the only man she can really depend on may just be the one with whom she has such trouble getting along.
I have to begin by raving about how the author handled the mystery. Initially, Melanie gets to the store and we watch her settle in. She finds threatening notes left throughout the store but both she and Caleb agree they are nothing but idle threats. Then an office fire occurs and they begin to take precautions to make the building more secure. Each threat is met with the appropriate amount of concern and the mystery is woven easily into the story. I really liked that the early emphasis stayed on building the story of Caleb and Melanie, not them playing amateur detective. It gave us a chance to get to know them. Even when a body is found on the steps Melanie and Caleb are clueless about what is happening and do the right thing, leaving it in the hands of the law. The buildup here is like a pot of water put on to boil: it ratchets slowly but surely to a blistering conclusion. The wonderful thing is it happens like it would in real life. There is a sense of disturbance and unease that only slowly builds to fear and genuine alarm as the threat escalates. It is also a treat that the villain is far from obvious.
The author uses the same deft pacing with the romance. Melanie and Caleb are initially at odds. Both their livelihoods depend on a partnership that was thrust upon them and they have to build the relationship needed to make that work. I appreciated that Melanie didn’t just accuse Caleb of sending the notes, leading the two of them down the road to the Big Misunderstanding that so often happens in romance. Instead they talk the issue out calmly and rationally, slowly working towards an intelligent conclusion based on communication. They fall in love first because they can communicate and second because they appreciate each other. They don’t have many romantic moments but they certainly had their share of companionable ones and that worked fine here.
Initially I wasn’t too fond of Melanie because of the chip on the shoulder she had regarding misbehaving boys. Fortunately her rational, fair nature came into play and she worked out that Levi was mischievous, not evil. She begins to form a good relationship with him. Caleb is a lot like Melanie in that he is rational and fair, though in his case you can add he is a loving parent and a good friend. He has a more congenial nature than Melanie, winning over the populace of the town easily, although she has the keen understanding of salesmanship that will help the mercantile go far in the future. They aren’t very exciting people but they are kind, wholesome people of the Little House on the Prairie variety. Their romance is sweet and reflects their genuine natures.
The religion factor in this book is low, at about a three or four on a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being downright preachy. The characters certainly pray, a few bible verses are quoted but there is no big theme running throughout the book and no lesson that the characters are meant to learn beyond what life typically teaches us.
I enjoyed reading this book about the not-so-wild settling of the West. It was interesting to discover the world of shop owners, bar keeps, and ranchers as opposed to your usual gunslingers and sheriffs. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet love story placed in an authentic Western setting.