I almost wrote this book off at the prologue. The writing style was confusing, and I had to reread it a couple times before figuring out what was going on. Thankfully, it was an anomaly and the rest of the book was worth the effort of getting through the first few pages.
Lord Collier Pembroke had a deal with his older brother Edgar; that Edgar would never get married. While Edgar has never wanted the responsibility of being heir to Brambourne, it's the only thing Collier has ever wanted. Then Edgar lowers the boom - he is getting married after all. After years of being lord of the manor, Collier suddenly finds himself relegated to the status of second son, or in less genteel terms, a remittance man. Collier winds up in the United State, in exile and shame.
Laurel Garrison is determined to make a go of cattle ranching and files a claim for her own homestead. Unfortunately, her father Jacob thinks an unproved claim is no place for his little girl, especially in the harsh Wyoming winter. The bank agrees, and she finds herself desperate for someone to help her finance her dream. Even if it's some tender footed English remittance man like Collier.
Collier, who is also a little desperate to have news of an investment to send back to England, tells Laurel he will find a way to help her keep her claim. The idea he comes up with is a fake marriage. After a few years, once the ranch is well established, he will go back to England and have the marriage annulled.
Laurel and Collier are what make this book work. It isn't so much that they are great characters individually, but the way they interact with each other. First off, they communicate well, meaning they actually talk to one another rather than relying on clairvoyance. The dialogue between the characters also helps chart their growth as individuals. When Laurel admits to Collier that maybe her stubborn independence can be rather foolish, it makes her instantly likeable.
Secondly they have refreshing honesty. As Collier puts it, if they had nothing else, they could at least have honesty. There were many situations, for example Collier's previous relationship with Lady Vivien, where the author could have taken the easy way out and let misunderstanding create a conflict. Instead, Jocks takes the high road and allows her characters to tell the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. The combination of dialogue and honesty gives the reader faith that this is a relationship that can last.
The combination also adds to the sensuality between the characters. Jocks reaches new heights of excellence in the area of sexual tension. Collier and Laurel's openness with each other extends to their physical relationship and makes it that much more exciting. To have a heroine who is not only open to new experiences, but also not afraid to make the first move is engaging.
The one misstep in the book is the subplot involving Collier's family. It comes so late in the story that it feels forced. Though its purpose is clear, to create the impetus for Laurel and Collier to adjust their view of the otherís world, it is nonetheless awkward. This is especially so regarding the revelation about Edgar's true nature. It was just too convenient.
Proving Herself is the third book in Jocks' Rancher's Daughters series and there are plenty more Garrison daughters to go. In fact that's the other stumbling block I had with this title, the excess of secondary characters. There are so many "rancher's daughters," husbands and relatives that I had a hard time keeping them all straight at times. Still, I suppose the big family will keep Jocks busy for several more books and that's a good thing. She has more than proved herself as a fine writer with this title.