Plots and Pans by Kelly Eileen Hake
Jessalyn was bold and independent enough to take risks, such as the risk of breaking her neck climbing down stealthily out of dorm room windows to rendezvous with her horse Morning Glory in early mornings or afternoons. She was bold and rebellious enough to eschew four different boarding schools in seven years, and brash and daring enough to board a ship crossing the ocean to America hrom an English port–alone. She was bold and foolish enough to take a train and eventually a stagecoach, alone, to Texas and the Bar None ranch, her home. To top it off, she was bold and skilled enough on her horse, dressed in split skirts that looked like chaps, a Stetson and common duster and a scarf over her face to approach the ranch and pass for an itinerant hand, given a job, a bunk and a meal by the ranch boss, Tucker Carmichael.
Jessalyn Culpepper was certainly resourceful and inventive, but it was 1879 and bucking convention could bring with it heartache, so once she was established at the ranch under the care of her Aunt Desta, spunky Jess worked hard to fit in.
Tucker Carmichael was not only the foreman for Carson Culpepper’s Bar None ranch, he was part owner. Before his death, Carson charged his son Ed, and Tucker with Jess’s care. Tucker took that job to heart, perhaps a bit too much, especially after he had seen her. What happens when spunk and impulsive meets responsible, stubborn and controlling?
Jess’s objection to Tucker’s watchfulness was fueled by a strong need to belong and an underlying anger at being abandoned by her father just when she needed him most. She viewed Tucker’s protection as a lack of respect for her as an individual, restricting her freedom to become a part of the ranch operations. Tucker saw Jess as his responsibility, keeping her safe from harm as he promised her father. But his overbearing control was also a knee-jerk reaction to what he perceived as his failure to protect her seven years earlier. The event that led to her removal from the ranch had serious repercussions for years to come. The two locked horns frequently.
Their conflicts came to a head when Tucker was forced to include the two women on the ranch’s cattle drive north to market, after they’d lost their original camp cook. For the first time, Jess and Tucker had to work together toward a common goal.
I loved the author’s attention to detail, especially in her description of the round-up, the preparations the women had to make for the drive, and the meals cooked for these events. I could easily picture all of it in my mind from her detailed accounts. It gave this book a unique point of view, from the cook’s perspective.
Another thing I appreciated about this story is the relationship between Aunt Desta and Jess that developed in the short span of time this book covers. The author skillfully conveys the warmth of understanding between the more mature woman and young Jess, who needs Desta for spiritual guidance as well as her friendship and the sense of family she was deprived of for so many years. It was Desta who ferreted out that under her bold and brash exterior Jess was insecure and in need of stability and a sense of belonging. And it was Desta who realized that Jess’s attitude toward God reflected her feelings of anger and abandonment from her father because he sent her away to school. Through the hardships of the cattle drive, Desta played an important role in helping Jess resolve these issues.
Thirdly, I enjoyed see the evolving relationship between Jess and Tucker. Both needed to dig deeply inside themselves to find compromises they could live with. Their journey toward a romance was filled with potholes, but endearing nevertheless. I enjoyed how the author used humor to help iron out some of those wrinkles. Overall, this was a fun book to read and I can heartily recommend it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of Barbour Publishing, Inc. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”