Arlene James' Every Cowgirl's Dream could have been a better book. Research and attention to detail are evident in this excellent account of a modern-day trail drive. What is missing is adequate treatment of the romance and suspense threads, which should have been as basic to the warp and woof of a romantic novel as the details of the trail drive.
With the Detmeyer family ranch operation in jeopardy, assorted heirs of Plummer Detmeyer gather at his ranch in Utah for the reading of his will . The urbanized, Denver-branch of the family, represented by surviving son, Smith, and his son, Payne, prefer to sell quickly whatever interest in the ranch operations they may inherit. The New Mexico branch, represented by the widow of Plummer's son, Lawton, and his daughter, Kara, hope to resurrect their ranch.
Plummer's will provides a way for Kara to use the livestock from the Utah ranch to restock her family's ranch in New Mexico, effectively becoming sole beneficiary of his will. The challenge is to deliver three-hundred cows from one ranch to the other in less than six weeks. The terms of the will allow Plummer's foreman, Rye Wagner, to help manage the trail drive but restrict Kara's receiving monetary help from family members. Rye was aware of this arrangement prior to his boss's death and agreed to it, though reluctantly.
A year earlier, Kara's father died in a mysterious hunting accident. Kara and her mother were forced to sell all their livestock, move to town and attempt to earn enough money to start ranching again someday. Kara had been educated on their remote ranch by her parents and had foregone a college education in order to remain on the ranch, working beside her father. It was a life she loved and has missed since her father's death.
Though she is a capable rancher, Kara has very low self esteem in one area, men. Whatever attraction develops between her and any men other than her relatives evaporates as she works alongside them. Though attracted to Rye Wagner, she assumes the attraction cannot be mutual.
Despite initial skepticism, Rye learns to appreciate Kara quickly as they cooperate to plan the trail drive. While Kara is agonizing over this wonderful man not finding her attractive, Rye is reminding himself to keep his distance, because he believes he was responsible for the failure of his marriage to a beautiful, Chako woman, Di'wanna, the mother of his eight-year-old son, Champ.
Using a route through the Chako reservation is crucial to the success of the trail drive, and thus ultimately to Kara's inheritance. Rye's final meeting with Di'wanna and her family is an important aspect of this story which deserved far better treatment. The change in Champ's attitude toward his mother and Kara is so swift and smooth it defies belief; a thread given inadequate attention.
There are a host of interesting secondary characters in this book. Kara's widowed mother, Dayna, participates in the drive as a modern-day version of a camp cook. In the process, she forms a strong bond with Champ and becomes romantically involved with a thrice-divorced cowboy. Both Rye's brother Jesse, who is instrumental in helping the drive succeed and his long-time friend Shoes, who has an important role as Rye's conscience, are characters who could benefit from more careful treatment. Each deserves a book of his own.
The book suffers generally from short-shrift editing. With the possible exception of the horses, the cover art is unrelated to the characters in the story. Rye's son is called Champ in most cases, but Chance when someone fell asleep at the keyboard. There are a few sentences which make no sense, though the author is clearly an excellent writer. Anyone spending more that four dollars for a book deserves better.
Category romances have page and editorial limitations. Unfortunately, fenced in by those limitations, Arlene James had a interesting idea for a story but produced instead a documentary focusing on techno-trail-drives with a sweet love story and just the barest hint of suspense.