Once upon a long time ago, I read a lot of Western romances. And then one day I realized that a lot of what I was reading wasn't very good. So it's been a long time (years, really) since I've read a Western romance because I was afraid I'd pick up another clunker. Thankfully, recent events threw Jo Goodman's Never Love a Lawman
in my path. Not only is it a good story with engaging characters, but it's a nice long read as well, at more than 400 pages.
The plot, in brief: Rachel Bailey is new to Reidsville, Colorado. Being a newcomer, and having some secrets she'd like to keep, she doesn't have much to do with the other residents of Reidsville. She does, however, make fabulous dresses for its female citizens, including the local madam and her working girls. Apparently, every male in town is captivated by Ms. Bailey, including Sheriff Wyatt Cooper, who watches her every day as she walks down the street doing her errands. Except for Molly, Rachel's part-time housekeeper, no one from town has ever been inside Rachel's house. This changes the night Wyatt shows up on her doorstep with some news that will change both of their lives: a man from Rachel's past has died and left her a significant inheritance, but on the condition that she marry Wyatt.
I bet you just rolled your eyes, didn't you? We've all read this plot a hundred times and it always leads to hissing and spitting and scratching and biting for about ten pages until the hero and heroine fall into a passionate embrace and confess their undying love for each other. Thankfully, Ms. Goodman had enough pages to let the relationship develop slowly, and thus, realistically. Wyatt and Rachel are both strong, capable people and their love for each other grows out of mutual trust and respect. Of course, there's a good dose of animal attraction as well, but it's the emotional relationship, rather than the physical, that was most satisfying to me as a reader.
Even when someone from Rachel's past shows up in Reidsville to threaten her happiness (you knew it had to happen) and the town rallies around her in support, it felt real and organic — support that came because she had opened herself up to the town and become one of them — rather than the kind of spontaneous, unearned support that occurs only because it's necessary to further the plot.
Reading Never Love a Lawman made me crave more of two things I've really missed: good Western romances and romance novels with page counts long enough to let the characters and relationships really develop.