Jenny Thompson takes great pleasure in her job as secretary to the sheriff. He consults her on cases, and, contrary to what the sheriff things, Jenny's convinced she single-handedly protects the town. Then, college-educated lawman Cal Westwood arrives to combat a notorious outlaw and his gang. Determined to run Cal out on a rail before he can take over her sheriff office, Jenny will stop short of nothing.
Initially, Cal’s attracted to Jenny’s elusive green eyes, but that’s before she convinces the town flirt and the entire temperance league to aim their ire at him. He has a gang to catch, his fallen comrade to avenge, and he’s not going to let one interfering woman ruin it for him. But he might have underestimated Jenny.
Will hot lead and quick trigger fingers ignite not just shootouts, but love? Or will their feuding give the outlaw the opportunity he needs to kill them all?
The Rocky Mountains, Gilman, CO 1891
“Next we should make a law mandating that all women wear bloomers to the Fourth of July picnic.” Ginny Thompson stroked her pen with a flourish across the last t of the sheriff memo and plopped the writing utensil on the desk.
List of stolen items in the recent robbery complete, she pushed the paper toward Uncle Zak. The intensity of the Colorado afternoon sun hit the sawn lumber of the pine floor.
Uncle Zak leaned heavily on the desk. His large gray eyes fixed on her as he slowly shook his head left, then right, ruffling his red neckerchief. “It’s just not done.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t start.” She’d seen a lovely bloomers pattern in the Butterick Home Catalog.
Uncle Zak’s shoulders slumped along with his suspenders. “The Temperance League would have convulsions.”
She smiled as she imagined Mrs. Clinton, the Temperance League leader, in bloomers.
“Besides, the laws are to advance the public good, not force agenda.” Uncle Zak stood. He closed his fingers on the robbery report.
“Freeing women from artificial constraints is a public good.”
Uncle Zak’s sigh lasted twice as long. “Some constraints are aimed to serve not restrain. That’s why only men are sheriffs.”
“I’d make an excellent sheriff.” She was perfectly capable of doing the job. Actually, she’d planned on it ever since she started target practice under Uncle Zak’s tutelage at the tender age of six.
Uncle Zak froze, hand suspended in the air.
For the first time since she’d been in pigtails, she had flabbergasted him. Even his eyes popped.
He didn’t need to look so shocked. Sure, there’d never been a female sheriff in Colorado, but there had to be a first. George Washington was the first president. Wyoming had just entered the Union as the first state allowing women’s suffrage.
“You’re not as strong as a man.” Uncle Zak’s voice quavered. His knees did, too. He rested a hand on the pine boards of the wall separating the main room from the office and jail cell within.
True, but she had a Colt .45. What did people say? ‘God created man, but Colt made them equal’ Which meant that even though women were physically weaker, thanks to firearms, they could best a man bellows to mend. “I could do the job. It’s 1890 after all.”
The muffled sound of gulping came from Uncle Zak’s throat.
She did pity him. Out of the kindness of his heart, he, a bachelor, had taken her in when her parents died. She certainly hadn’t been the easiest child. But Uncle Zak bore the blame for her desire to be sheriff. Maybe if she’d been raised by a mother who’d excelled in needlework, musical abilities, and other womanly virtues, then she’d want to be a proper lady.
“When you buy that ranch you’ve been wanting and retire, I could take over.” She glanced at the newspaper on the desk. Town Deputy in Moobeetie, Texas Embezzles Post Office Funds. She always sent away for newspapers so as to stay abreast of the latest law enforcement news.
“You’d never win the Gilman sheriff election.” Uncle Zak rested his desperate gaze on her as if praying such would be the case.
“Because women can’t vote. When even a backwoods territory like Wyoming had the sense twenty years ago to give women the vote, you know there’s a problem.” Ginny righted her chair with a clatter and grabbed her basket from under the desk. Scooping the apple pie out of her basket, she set it on her desk. It emitted a delicious hint of cinnamon. Women might not have the vote, but the Temperance League held quite the sway here in Gilman. She needed to win them over.
“And he’s coming on the noon train,” Uncle Zak finished.
She blinked. “Who’s coming?”
“Cal Westwood. He’s a great shot, an educated lawman.”
“Why?” She reached for the pie spatula.
“My leg’s been troubling me more than ever. Mr. Westwood’s agreed to come on as assistant sheriff.”
Spatula half-immersed in apple pie, she stiffened. “I help you, Uncle Zak!” Her voice went shrill.
Uncle Zak’s chest heaved. “You’re a pretty young thing of nineteen. Don’t you want to get married and have babies instead of sitting at some old man’s jail all day?”
Sit! Sit was scarcely the word! Beyond her official duties as secretary, she solved crimes. The only thing she didn’t have was a gold star, and she intended on getting one of those as soon as possible. “I already explained my ambitions to you, Uncle Zak.”
“Don’t you want to get married?” Uncle Zak barely disguised the eagerness in his voice.
She was his only kin, and he’d hinted at grandnieces and nephews ever since she’d turned sixteen. Uncle Zak needn’t worry. She had every intention of marrying. Peter Foote was her man. Peter Foote owned the general store in town, and he was handsome and personable in a quiet sort of way. They’d get married in the schoolhouse. Their children would have Peter’s velvety-brown eyes and would play among the store aisles…all while she kept this town safe.
She inched her fingers up to span her waist. How horrified would the Temperance League be if she took to wearing a gun belt over the calico?
Uncle Zak dug his fork into the apple pie. “You better hurry up, honey. Westwood’s train should arrive in a quarter hour, and I don’t want him having to ask directions to the sheriff’s office like a common stranger.”
A scowl iced over her lips. Cal Westwood was a common stranger. With a distasteful frown on her face, she scooped up the newspaper and her parasol. Just because she ran this town didn’t mean she needed her nose getting burnt.
“Make sure to tell the townsfolk there ain’t no trouble in town. Cal’s just coming for my job.”
Ginny flinched. She’d identified the ringleader in the hooligan uprising last year as well as put a stop to that silver mine strike ten miles north by improving the men’s rations. She should be sheriff. “How old is he, Uncle Zak?”
“Young whipper-snapper. Just twenty-three.”
Twenty-three! He’d never die off. The town would vote for him and then he’d be sheriff for ages and she’d never get her chance. Tears gathered behind her eyelids. This Cal Westwood wouldn’t do half the job she could.
Her fist constricted. This Mr. Westwood had better be a good sheriff. Gilman deserved that. She’d investigate this Mr. City-Educated Westwood and see if he warranted the illustrious title of Gilman sheriff. If he turned out to be fine as cream gravy, then maybe she could accept him. But, for all she knew, he was a criminal. If he was, for the good of the town, she’d ride him out on a rail and become sheriff herself.
A piercing scream that resembled the roar of some sort of ferocious animal split the room.
With a sigh, she turned to give her little white cat a slice of apple pie. Fluffy had screamed like that for the last three years, and it still gave everyone in earshot a headache. No wonder the passing wagon train had abandoned the kitten by the side of the road.
“I don’t see why that cat gets pie and I don’t,” a slurred voice called. Drunkard Silas Jones stuck his nose through a hole in the jail bars, a glass of Uncle Zak’s sweet tea in one hand.
“Because you don’t scream like a wildcat.” She headed for the door.
“I could learn,” Silas called after her.
Question 1: How were gender expectations in the 1890s different than today? What factors influenced those changes to occur?
Question 2: How did gender expectations affect Jenny's goal of becoming sheriff of Gilman as well as Cal's reactions to that goal? Do you think Jenny would have been happier in modern America where she could have pursed a law enforcement career? Do you think Cal would have been happier?
Question 3: What did you think of Sheriff Thompson? Do you think 1890s gender attitudes affected what he wanted for his niece or could you see a modern uncle behaving similarly?
Question 4: Temperance leagues were a driving force behind getting women the vote both in Colorado and the nation. How did the Gilman temperance league advance the cause of women or did it?
Question 5: Historically, John Clinton was a silver prospector who founded Gilman. Cal said he wouldn't have expected a prospector to have a wife like Mrs. Clinton. When you think of the women who settled the west, what do you think they were like? Do you think any were like Mrs. Clinton?
Question 6: What do you think Jenny most admired about Cal?
Question 7: What do you think Cal most admired about Jenny?
Question 8: Was Cherry right that Jenny never would have been happy with Peter Foote? Do you think he knew that Jenny had considered marrying him?
Question 9: What do you expect the future to hold for Jenny and Cal? Do you think that Mrs. Clinton will continue to meddle in their lives?
Question 10: How did Cherry change and grow from her initial appearance in the book to the ending? Do you think Cal judged her correctly or do you think she has a deeper side than the town gives her credit for?