Despite a few too many coincidences and primary characters who interact better verbally rather than physically, Tanner Stakes His Claim is a nice, if improbable, story of love and fate.
As the local sheriff, Wes Tanner has determined that it’s his duty to check out the new saloon singer. Her presence has caused quite a stir in town the last six weeks by attracting more men to the saloon on a nightly basis. Though Wes finds "Angel" to be modestly dressed and possessing a beautiful singing voice, thus the name Angel, Wes knows she can’t be as innocent as she portrays herself to be.
Angelena has amnesia. Six weeks ago she awoke on a train with no memory of who she was, other than her first name, or where she was going. When the train arrived in Edgewood, Texas, Angelena had a strong "feeling" she should disembark at that station, even though the town did not seem familiar. In order to support herself until her memory returned, Angelena sang for Jason, the local saloon owner. Although she was unable to remember why she knew words to all of the songs played on a saloon piano, Angelena sang beautifully and was hired on the spot. Jason promised her room and board, and protection from the customers of his other girls, in exchange for her nightly performances and cooking for his employees.
Very little of Angelena’s memory has returned in the six weeks she’s been in Edgewood and she’s beginning to question if it ever will when a new problem develops. Within days of seeing him for the first time, Angelena has to avoid the advances of a very persistent sheriff who has decided that Angelena will be his one way or another. When Angelena unceremoniously declines his offer to be his mistress, Wes is dumbfounded, but tenacious. Wes had fallen in love with a saloon girl years before and now believes they’re all the same heartless women who like to play with men’s emotions. Wes is confused because he’s obsessed with Angel. He wants to believe she is an innocent, but her current employment suggests otherwise.
Wes is not totally convinced of Angelena’s amnesia and rightfully questions her morals when it’s discovered that she’s pregnant within days after their initial meeting. Unable to remember who the father might be, Angelena faces disgrace until Wes proposes a different kind of arrangement…marriage. If her memory returns, will Wes be able to accept Angelena’s past and be a father to her unborn child? Is Wes only offering marriage out of a misguided attempt to fulfill his quest of getting her in his bed?
For all of his faults, I liked Wes. He’s a man with a past, subconsciously waiting for the right woman to come along with whom he can start a family. The fact that he had a troubled childhood, which literally comes back to haunt him after the mysterious reappearance of his biological father, makes Wes all the more appealing.
I did not, however, care for one particular scene where Wes’ compassion suddenly gave way to brutality. It was out of character for him to alternate from compassion to brutality, and is found nowhere else in the book. Without giving anything more away, this scene may discomfort some readers, myself included.
The early beginnings of Wes and Angelena’s relationship are the most appealing part of their relationship. She is spunky and firm when it comes to dealing with Wes’ advances, and he is persistent enough to make his actions more humorous than threatening. If Angelena could have remained that way throughout the story, rather than turning into something of a milquetoast, her character would have been more empathetic. However, when the story takes a turn with the "long-lost relative" plot device, it becomes it a bit hard to swallow.
The secondary characters are the best part of the story, particularly Dex and Pip Sawyer, the local shopkeepers who "adopt" Angelena, and Wes’ adoptive parents, Gabe and Rosemary Tanner, the primary characters in The Bachelor Tax, the first book of Carolyn Davidson’s Edgewood, Texas miniseries. Both couples are loving spouses and parents who provide much needed guidance by example for both Angelena and Wes. In fact, Rosemary is to be respected for being the only woman who can intimidate Wes into submission, which is not an easy feat.
Tanner Stakes His Claim is a story of redemption and love that will appeal to readers who enjoy well-developed and well-written supporting characters. However, what started out as a promising relationship between Angelena and Wes, became something of a disappointment. And as a result of too many coincidences, their story appears manipulated rather than natural to the reader.