Annette Talbot considers herself a coward because she escaped the brutality of Claude Leveques by leaving, unburied, the body of a dear friend. Leveques, desperate to recapture his “songbird” and force her to entice customers to his gambling tables, chases Annette across the west for a year. Hungry and broke, Annette finally returns to her hometown of Ranger Bluff, Wyoming, just before Thanksgiving, 1880. Once there, she is devastated to discover that her father is gone and her home a ruin.
A year earlier, Elijah Walker saw his fiancée murder his father. Mistrustful of all women, he stoutly resists his attraction to Annette until the day he scoops her battered body from the icy waters beneath the Medicine Bow’s twin waterfalls. Elijah realizes he would do anything to protect her; but Annette, determined to never be a coward again, prays for “more crosses to bear” and stubbornly defies Elijah’s attempts to keep her safe.
Virtually all the dialogue in this book, both spoken and unspoken, is written in a punchy, caustic style. Whereas a sprinkling of this sarcastic spice might have flavored Cowboy Christmas with wit, when doused with a full shaker the pleasure shrivels and––for this reader––dies.