Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Arizona Ranger Jesse Cooper is after Texas Red, an outlaw who’s left 20 men dead in the course of his crimes–including Jesse’s uncle. Tracking the bandit to the small but wealthy town of Agua Fria, New Mexico, Jesse hopes to flush out his quarry quickly. Jesse’s used to town gossip mills forcing bad guys on the run, or out into the open. It’s soon clear, however, that if Texas Red is in the vicinity, he’s likely got protection from some powerful folks. Jesse plans to make a final stand with Big Iron, his slain uncle’s gun. But this chance to avenge his uncle will be Jesse’s last mission if Texas Red gets his way.
Gabriel Fletcher is the only heir to the owner of the Copper Mine Hotel. Gabe’s stingy father wants him to “gain experience” in the business, pushing him to work as a waiter and desk clerk–for little money–despite their wealth. Gabe’s extremely capable, having been a hard working youth. When Gabe encounters Jesse at the hotel, both men feel the attraction. It’s a dangerous game though, because gossips will report Gabe’s behavior to daddy just as quickly as they’ll spread the true purpose of Jesse’s mission. Anyone connected to Jesse could be at risk if Texas Red wants a hostage–or bait to trap the lawman.
This story seems set in a steampunk Western society, where clockwork automatons and carriages are in use, and a big gun could establish your reputation–or mark you for an early grave. I enjoyed the little twist on the Old West, and the somewhat tolerance for same-sex relations that Jesse and Gabe receive. Jesse’s plan for vengeance dovetails with meeting Gabe, who is highly intriguing–but can only be a passing connection, right? He has a good life in Agua Fria, one that Jesse can’t replicate as an itinerant Ranger. But the more dangerous the hunt for Texas Red becomes, the more Gabe and Jesse lean on one another. And, the more a future without the other seems untenable.
This novella has great pacing and just the right amount of backstory. Both Jesse and Gabe make great narrators for their parts of the tale. I really enjoyed the twists, and was glad that the characters found reliable partners to help them in just the right moments. There’s enough emotional intimacy to support the love story that’s growing, and a happy ending for two deserving men. Expect near misses, bad deals, and unexpected sacrifices.
For people who like westerns, or historical fiction/romance, especially with a dash of steampunk, this one is worth a look.