I discovered June Kearns’ books through the lovely Rosie Amber’s blog when I reviewed ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ (see my review here). I enjoyed it so much that I had to read ‘An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy’. Hope you enjoy my review and the extract from the book that follows. You can read my interview with June here.
This is a lovely book, thoroughly enjoyable, well written and with a cast of characters that you’ll love and hate!
Annie Haddon is dragged to the American west by her horrible aunt and vile cousin. Bullied and brow beaten, and threatened with marriage to a man she finds revolting, Annie is resigned to a miserable life as she travels by stagecoach across the hot, dusty plains. But a hold-up sees her rescued by the handsome and dangerous Colt McCall and Annie is led into a series of mishaps, dangers and adventures.
Feisty but not perfect, Annie is a character that it’s easy to identify with. I so wanted her to escape the clutches of her horrible family and find the happiness she deserved.
June Kearns has once again invented a strong yet vulnerable main character, a leading man that you’ll fall in love with and a romance that is anything but soppy. And the social constraints that point to nothing but a life of misery for a girl who has so much to her and so much to give are a poignant reminder of how many women were denied happiness because they didn’t fit in with society’s idea of normal.
Annie’s eyes probed the shadows. Even with the moon up, it was hard to see more than a few feet. Dark shapes and silhouettes, all perfectly still. Trees, rocks, scrub. She sensed life but could see no movement, nothing to suggest they were not entirely alone. It was eerily quiet.
‘Are those Red Indians still behind us?’
McCall didn’t answer straight away. Then, ‘Yep. Right on our tails.’
‘I can’t see any sign of them.’
‘You can’t hear them either, but they’re there.’
‘Why don’t they say what they want?’
A careless shrug. ‘They’ll get around to it, eventually. Right now, they’ve got everything their way, they’re in no hurry.’
‘Can’t you just … parley with them or something? Ask them to … go away?’
‘You mean offer a handful of beads and greetings from the Great White Queen? England Rules,’ he drawled, as the colour rose in Annie’s face again. ‘I wouldn’t count on conversation if I were you. I don’t think that’s what they have in mind.’
‘Why don’t we go on, then?’ she said. ‘Now that it’s dark. I’m feeling much better. Couldn’t we creep away while they’re not looking?’
A faint snort. ‘Comanche are always looking. We’re not creeping anywhere, we’ll hole up here.’
‘Hole?’ she said. ‘Up?’
‘Make camp. Sleep, rest the horse.’
‘Here?’ Staring blankly round, Annie stiffened. ‘In the open?’ Her voice rose sharply. ‘Together?’
‘Good water, some shelter. What more do you want?’
Doors, she thought. With locks. Walls. Privacy! She was covered in confusion.
‘You can rest easy.’ McCall’s mouth twitched. Clearly he had managed to add mind-reading to his list of talents. ‘I never move in on a woman without a clear invitation. No matter how alluring.’
Oh, ho. Annie’s eyes rolled. Very funny. She didn’t need mirrors to know that she looked a fright. Face scorched by wind and sun, hair a wayward red bush down her back. Probably blood-shot eyes and a coated tongue, as well.
But men like McCall had never shown the slightest interest in her before, even when she’d been well-dressed, nicely shod and prettily groomed. Why would things alter now?
He passed her a blanket, then stretched out full-length, propping his head on his saddle.
‘Are you sleeping there?’ She shot him a startled, side-ways look.
‘Yep.’ He tilted his hat over his eyes. ‘This is as private as it gets. Just you, me and the lone prair-ree.’
‘But … what about those Comanche?’
‘Whatever they’re planning, they won’t come in tonight. They rarely risk dying in the dark. Think their souls might lose their way.’
In spite of everything, Annie felt stirrings of interest. Hadn’t she yearned for travel and adventure? Epic journeys to far-flung parts with an elderly female relative as chaperon? Well, here she was. Another dream shattered.
It was some time before she could settle down. So many strange and unfamiliar sounds. The whisper of water, wind in the cottonwoods. Rustlings, night noises. Birds – a covert glance at McCall – and beasts.
Had the man no consideration? Couldn’t he climb a tree, sleep in that?
A harsh wail echoed a way off. Annie sat up sharply. ‘Mr McCall!’
He didn’t stir.
‘Was that a wolf? A coyote?’
‘I sure hope so.’ The drawl drifted up from beneath the brim of his hat.
That was it? No reassurances, no sleep well? No keeping watch? ‘But,’ she said, breathing hard, ‘what if –’
‘I sleep with one eye open. Try it yourself.’
Hauling the blanket up round her ears, she lay down in semblance of sleep. Eyes though, were wide, fixed on black velvet sky and a million stars over her head.
‘If you need anything,’ he said, the amusement clear in his voice. ‘I’m only six inches away.’
Annie lay stiff as a board. The lamb stretched out next to the lion. But would the lion be licking his lips in the morning?
June is on Twitter: @june_kearns
and at: www.junekearns.com