First let me say I’m not normally a “cowboy” romance fan (I go for Navy SEALS) that said, I had to rethink my entire stance when I read Willow Springs. But that’s not what this is, though I thought so going in.
Our heroine, Crissa is a strong, independent woman who has had to learn to look after herself and that always pulls me into a story. She is reinventing herself following a tragedy that she has shared with no one and is unaware that she is being trailed by a bounty hunter. I love that she doesn’t need a lot of male “assistance” to make her life work.
Enter Drake the Pony Express rider and Garth the miner.
I thought this was going to be an easy love triangle. I knew immediately who I was rooting for, but Carolyn didn’t go for the simple. Her characters are complex and multi-dimensional to the point that I wasn’t sure myself who I wanted to prevail once I got to know them. I couldn’t be sure which was the “good” guy, and I liked that I was kept guessing. But that’s only part of the story – I didn’t see the mystery coming, and didn’t have it figured out when it happened. No spoilers, but I love a delish twist in what I read, and there were several in here. Kick back and enjoy this one! I sure did.
“Would you look’a there,” Myrtle Thompson said, nodding toward the door as a young man raced past on horseback.
“That’s not!” Ethel gasped.
“Oh, yes it is,” Agnes chimed in. “That’s the Bateman boy.” Agnes clucked her tongue. “And with his wife still in confinement.”
“He’s up to no good, I tell you,” Doris said. “It’s shameful.”
Ruth and Mary bobbed their heads in agreement. “Indeed. Shameful.”
Cringing at the cackles coming from the dining room, Crissa peered through the kitchen doors to where the Thompson sisters dominated the near corner of the room. That table was their table—on the last Thursday of every month, anyway. There wasn’t anything special about this table except that it sat in the corner between the kitchen and the stairway and had a direct view to the front door on the opposite wall. Any comings and goings, and eatings for that matter, were thoroughly scrutinized by the ladies of this table. The unused bar was also within their line of sight, and gentlemen of proper upbringing made sure not to duck behind the bar to refill their flasks if “the sisters” were present.
“Wicked gossips,” Marida whispered. Her simple English was laced with a thick Italian accent. “They usually gone by now. Must be waiting for miners come in.”
For Crissa’s two weeks in Willow Springs, Henders Inn had been mostly quiet, save for the few bachelor shopkeepers who took their meals here. The stagecoach had come in earlier in the evening, depositing four guests for an overnight stay. In the middle of trying to situate the travelers, the Thompson sisters had arrived for their monthly gossip fest, and to give Crissa a collective looking over. The potatoes weren’t quite as fluffy as usual, it seemed. The corn bread was too gritty, the meat loaf drier than they had remembered it—even the green beans were stringy until Molly informed the sisters that Marida had done all of the cooking, same as usual.
It didn’t seem to matter that Crissa smiled extra friendly or spoke extra politely. She was met with frowns and turned up noses from “the sisters’ table.”
“Don’a you worry,” Marida tried to reassure Crissa. “They see you not after their husbands, they like you fine.”
Husbands. Crissa had to suppress a shudder at the thought. If I had wanted a husband, I would have stayed in Boston. The last thing she wanted was to get involved with any of the men in the town. Indeed, Crissa considered Willow Springs to be the nearest thing to her idea of purgatory. It was dry and desolate—nothing like the bustling city of Boston or the rich farmland of Uppsala. She certainly did not plan to stay here long.
“Miners?” Crissa asked. “Why will the miners be coming?”
“Is payday. They come for dinner on way to Ely.” Marida gave Crissa an exaggerated wink. “Are sporting women in Ely.”
“How many will be coming?” The thought of more strange faces to watch made Crissa edgy.
“Depends on if miners more hungry or more . . .” Marida winked again.
Gasping at Marida’s boldness, Crissa turned back to study the guests in the dining room. “We do not have many tables left tonight.”
“No worry,” Marida informed her. “When miners come, many these people will leave.”
“Why? Do they not like the miners?”
Laying her finger alongside her nose, Marida gave Crissa a sidelong glance. “Today payday at mine. You watch out for them. They no gentlemen.”
“But, Marida, surely—”
“You listen. You watch out.”
* * * * *
Born and raised in Utah, Carolyn Steele was introduced to western novels at a very young age by her grandfather, the son of a gold miner. She has been writing technical and marketing communications for most of her adult life. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in numerous national magazines. She earned her undergraduate degree in Communications from the University of Utah.
Married and living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Carolyn loves researching obscure history then weaving it into stories. She also enjoys family dinners with her children and grandchildren, photography, travel, golf, reading, and all forms of needlework. (And with the good sense to get into a Steele family, you know she’s on the ball!)
I received a complimentary copy of “Willow Springs” direct from the publisher Sweetwater Books (imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.