|Rowdy Rhodes was introduced in The Man From Stone Creek as a deputy sheriff in Haven, Arizona. His friend and hero of that tale, Sam O’Ballivan, invited him up to Stone Creek. There have been train robberies and the town needs a new marshal. Rhodes is also enlisted as a ranger in order to catch the robbers, suspected to be a gang known as the Yarbro gang. The only difficulty Rowdy has in accepting this assignment is the fact that he is a Yarbro and he once rode in the gang made up of his father, Payton and his brothers. He is A Wanted Man.
Lark Morgan is also wanted, although not by the law. Lark was a “songbird” in a saloon in San Francisco when she was given the opportunity to be a lady and well-respected wife in Denver. Autry Whitman is an old man who had made his fortune in railroads. He immediately fell for Lark and wanted her in his bed. He also wanted her to be on display for his social life. He bought her clothes, education and expected obedience in return. Lark stood it for several years, but finally got fed up and left him. She filed for divorce, but has been running ever since. She came to Stone Creek because they advertised for a schoolteacher. With an alias and a story about being a widow, she tries to establish herself in this small town. She is wary though, knowing that Autry will try to find her since she has humiliated him with her actions.
There are all kinds of complications. Rowdy discovers his father has a new identity too, and is living in Flagstaff with a saloon keeper. They are raising his father’s youngest son, who was never involved in the family business. Gideon didn’t even know about Rowdy, but he ends up in Stone Creek with him. Lark is staying at a boarding house run by Mrs. Porter, who seems to think her husband will be returning any day, even though he has been gone for over two years. One of Lark’s students becomes ill and she ends up caring for her and there is a twenty six year old man attending Lark’s school who is only in the third grade. He may have more on his mind than just learning to read. And the train robbers strike again. Through all this, Lark and Rowdy try to have a non-relationship relationship. And they also have some mighty fine sexual interactions along the way.
What makes this a fun tale is the relationship between Lark and Rowdy. Their non-relationship is almost tongue in cheek, since it is obvious that there are sparks and nearly everyone can see it. Lark is a unique combination between spice and sugar and incongruent naiveté. She is also strong willed and a survivor. Rowdy is just as unique a combination. He was an outlaw, yet, has an inherent goodness about him. He is trying to reform, but he knows his past will eventually catch up to him. He is honest enough to know that he won’t be able to arrest any member of his family, and yet, he wants them stopped…if it is them robbing the trains again.
The story is fast paced and there is plenty of action along with the character building. Most characters have multiple dimensions, adding to the feel of knowing these folks and not just reading about them. Yet, there is some sense that things are too pat. Payton Yarbro is an outlaw yet he is easy to sympathize with and like despite his past. For true western aficionados this type of empathy may not ring true. There are other disparities between the realities of the west and the situations presented. There is a blizzard that is depicted very much to conform to the tale, not the dangerous life-threatening reality of that time period, even though someone dies in it.
Having read the first of the Stone Creek novels, this one is more engaging and has more realistic action. There is a much better romance in this than the last novel. The sex is explicit, as is Miller’s style. It has its issues, but overall, A Wanted Man is a story that I can recommend.