Hattie Walker would rather paint nature than marry any of her suitors. She convinces her parents to let her travel to Denver via stagecoach to pursue her art career, but when the stagecoach is ambushed, her plans go awry. Rescued from the elements by the Arapaho Indians, and rescued from the Arapaho by former suitor Lieutenant Jack Hennesey, Hattie soon finds that she’s trapped at Fort Reno with Jack for the indefinite future.
To her surprise, the annoying boy from her hometown isn’t quite as annoying anymore. Instead of pointing out the flaws in her schoolwork and her logic, he’s busy fostering friendship with the local tribes, establishing a school to educate the native children, and most of all, keeping Hattie safe from her mistakes, her misconceptions, and her nightmares. Will Hattie realize Jack’s worth before he keeps their bargain and sends her on to Denver? And will Jack read the signs right this time when he’s always read them wrong before?
This cute romance kept me reading too late into the night. Both the hero and the heroine are endearing characters. Hattie is an outspoken confluence of independence and clinginess. Jack is admirably clever in most things and astonishingly obtuse when it comes to matters of the heart. The scene where Hattie decides to re-organize Jack’s parlor bubbled over with humor as did the letters exchanged by Jack and his commanding officer, Major Adams.
This book also touches on the historical situation of Native American children attending schools, learning reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic as they learn to live in the white man’s world. The Darlington School is portrayed in a positive light, with Jack striving to understand the native culture even as he encourages them to abandon it (a view point radically different than that shown in Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore). The poignancy of the situation is not ignored, however, and Hattie composes one of her best sketches as she watches a young native lose his precious braids to the teacher’s scissors.
If you are looking for a lighthearted western romance with original characters, this is the book for you. This novel is the second of the Fort Reno series, but it can clearly stand alone as I didn’t even realize it was part of a series until I looked the title up on Goodreads after reading it.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.