West of Heaven by Barbara Scott
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Historical (western)
Length: Short Story (117 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 books
Reviewed by Camellia
Marcella McGovern arrives in Onion Creek, Texas for the reading of the will of her unknown benefactress. Accompanied by the attorney who managed her education but kept the secret of her parenthood, she soon discovers more shocks than her prim upbringing has prepared her to face. The late proprietress of the local house of ill repute, Miss Sophie Castleman, and Clint Harte, wealthy cattle baron of the Heart O' Gold Ranch, were murdered in each others arms. The will names Marcella as their secret daughter and the inheritor of Sophie's bawdy house and all Harte’s marketable cattle. Complicating the inheritance is Lucky Desloge, Sophie’s disreputable but all too-tempting majordomo, a prime suspect in the murders, and all Sophie’s working girls who are in hiding in her boarded-up house. Then Clint Harte's angry widow issues Marcella an ultimatum, get the cattle off the Heart O' Gold or pay the price.
Gossip, love, hate, and hope take on new life when Miss Marcella McGovern and her wheezing, frail lawyer arrive in Onion Creek, Texas for the reading of Miss Sophie’s will. Marcella, straight from the Hawthorne Academy in Tallahassee, ever the proper, well-educated young lady, learns the truth of who she really is. Shocked and bereft is compounded with her long-felt sense of abandonment and the emotions threaten to swamp her, but there is no time for self-pity. The whole town knows of her infamous heritage, so she forges ahead doing the best she can with what she has to work with. To her, avoidance is no way to live life.
With four ladies of the night, the irate widow Harte, and the disturbing Jean Luc Desloge to deal with, Marcella must strengthen her backbone, grow a thick skin, and become a decisive, determined young woman in one fell swoop. Her keen instincts, innate intelligence and straight forward approach to things serve her well as she moves into a new way of life.
Jean Luc Desloge, who’d crawled into a bottle to escape from feelings of guilt, puts the bottle away as soon as Marcella steps off the stage. His struggle with himself and life in general almost overwhelms at times, but he perseveres. Knowing more about his life before the war and its devastating effectives would have helped me understand some of his actions better. His sense of responsibility and the connection he feels with Marcella give him determination to help the people he cares about as they reach for their dreams. His old friend Jasper Rollins, who understands better than most how much personal freedom and independence mean, helps Desloge as all get ready to make a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas.
The secondary characters give strength to the story. Even though they are flawed and damaged by lives they have lived, they find the courage to work hard to fulfill long-hoped-for new starts in life. Queenie, Polly, June Bug, and Glory B, the ladies of the night, and other women who hired on as drovers strive to escape the roles of servitude they’ve endured up to now. While the vehicle of a cattle drive with all its rigors demands that one suspend disbelief, the results of the down-trodden women gaining a sense of self-worth, independence, and hope of fulfilling dreams, makes an uplifting story. The telling rather than showing at times puts the reader at a distance, but the desire to know how these resilient women cope in what is usually men’s work keeps one reading.
Barbara Scott slips humor into this story of redemption making it fun to read, while she weaves in a love story amid all the trials and troubles of living in the post Civil War West where life was hard even in the best of times.