|Linda Lael Miller has contributed another fine episode in the Stone Creek saga. This one gets my recommendation because it is better than the first installment, The Man From Stone Creek, which I gave a three heart rating. It is just under the fun and excitement of the second, A Wanted Man. The Rustler is about another member of the Yarbro gang, this time the oldest brother, Wyatt, who has done his time in prison and is out to start a new life.
Wyatt was old enough to remember his mama, a gentle lady who taught her boys manners and the difference between right and wrong. Her influence was subtle and seemingly inconsequential when her husband rode into their life and took his boys into his gang of train robbers. Wyatt adored his father and hated him too. He resented the times he left his mother to fend for herself. And yet, he was larger than life and almost demanded that the boys follow in his footsteps.
Wyatt did his time in prison, and as the story opens, we find him thinking about helping to rustle some cattle. Things happen and he ends up riding off before the rustling is complete. He heads to Stone Creek, where his brother Rowdy is sheriff. His first day there, Wyatt meets the daughter of the town banker and swears he is going to marry her.
Sarah Tamlin is one fine young woman. At age 27, she is almost on the shelf and as pretty as she is, Wyatt is surprised some man has not snapped her up. But Sarah has secrets galore. First, her father is starting to go senile and she has basically been running the bank for a couple of years. She lives in constant fear that the townspeople will discover her father wandering around at night in his nightshirt or will see him in the middle of one of his less lucid moments when he thinks he is still in the war or talking to Sarah’s mother, who is dead. She knows that even in 1907, folks will not think kindly when they discover their money is being protected by a woman.
But the biggest secret Sarah carries around is about her life when she was in school in Philadelphia. While young and foolish, Sarah fell for a sweet talking professor and fell in love. Unfortunately it wasn’t until she found herself pregnant that she realized he was a married man with a wife who controlled the purse strings and basically his life. She gave up her son, whom she named Owen, and left him with his father, Charles Langstreet. Charles is a bank investor and shows up one day with Owen, who thinks Sarah is his aunt. Sarah is thrilled to see him and yet, heartbroken because she knows Charles is going to take him away again.
Wyatt and Sarah seem to share a bond, and Sarah is attracted despite her concerns about his background. Owen takes to Wyatt, especially when he discovers that there are some dime novels written about his “adventures.” Wyatt takes over as deputy when Rowdy has to ride out searching for some rustlers. Wyatt knows his time is limited, as he fears that the gang will report to Rowdy that his brother started off in the group. But Wyatt has hopes to buy some land and start a small spread himself with Sarah at his side. The question is whether the two can put their pasts behind them to find their futures.
I really enjoyed this. The downsides are that there were some slow sections of the story and not all the anticipated problems became issues. When they did pop up, they were sometimes handled rather cursorily, making the reader wonder why they were even brought up as an issue. But the fun, engaging writing style, sense of humor of the characters and the many facets of both characters made this more than just an average romance. The Rustler is a great way to spend some time with a town that is fast becoming a great place to visit.