It’s time to get back to my roots- a hot pink (HOT. PINK. With bonus rearing horse!) Zebra romance I picked up, oh, ages ago- somewhere between my high school heydays of romance, and coming back to the fold a couple years ago. It was clearly from a free pile somewhere, and it’s everything you’d expect from a late 1980’s Zebra romance and MORE. No Texan Viscount, though- I feel like that stays in it’s own category of crazysauce.
I think I picked this up something like seven years ago, and read it, and (apparently) liked it enough to keep it and cart it around to four different houses and three moves. Now I'm wondering what the hell was in my head, except that I'd gone through a years long phase where I hadn't read any romance at all, because I was trying to be an adult (overrated). So any water tastes good to the parched girl in the desert? And it's been sitting on my shelf in all of its hot pink glory, and I remembered the disguises being awesome? But I don't remember being so tired of it by the end. I'm not so parched for romance now (books, I mean. Real life? ugh.) so I'm not guzzling whatever I can find in the freebie piles anymore.
(NO SERIOUSLY LOOK AT THAT COVER. LOOK AT IT.)
(I’m actually starting the summary before I event finish, because this is FULL of the crazy-sauce, and I don’t want to forget things.)
So our heroine is Sabrina (of course) Spencer. She’s an actress in 1863 America, touring with a troupe and having quite the following because she’s Just. That. Awesome. With amazing legs. She has purple eyes.
Our hero is Ridge Tanner, who as an infant was kidnapped by the Apache (his adoptive mother wanted a baby, and didn’t have any luck getting pregnant, so her husband, one of the leaders of their particular tribe, went out and got about 100 sheep and a baby for her). He grew up as the son of tribal leaders, and didn’t realize that he was white until his father was like “so….I know you think you should be considered for leadership when I kick it, but you’re not. Cuz, you’re white. Sorry no one mentioned it before.” Ridge then went on his manhood walkabout (or something along those lines) and came back to discover his tribe massacred by an enemy tribe, and then- I think- went and found his birth family, and got educated in the white world and is now the Indian Agent for New Mexico.
Anyway, Sabrina is in Chicago with her troupe, about to go to Boston for a HUGE show, lots of money, blah blah, when she gets a telegram that her father has been killed while under a court martial for crimes as of yet unspecified. She quits, makes her way down to Missouri, disguises herself as an old, fat widow named Samantha Stewart and hires Ridge to take her to Santa Fe so she can find out what happened and clear her father’s name. She intends to stay veiled and uses makeup to make herself look old and crabby to keep herself safe during the journey.
You can guess how well THAT works out. She snipes at Ridge for being a manwhore and generally does all the things one expects a cranky old dowager she-dragon beldam to say (all words used to describe her), but he also notices that she doesn’t move like he’d expect someone who actually weighed what she appeared to weigh should move, and few other things were off, and he REALLY wanted to see what was underneath that veil, so he gets her passing out drunk, and finds out about the make up, realizes that she’s young and hot and kisses her (while passed out) and realizes that he COULD have his way with her, but he’s not a rapist.
Well, good for you, Ridge. Would you like a “Congrats for being a basically decent human being” cookie?
(Okay, look. I do understand the concept of “oh, hey look at this horrible thing I could totally do, if I wanted, that is totally morally reprehensible. I’m not going to do it, because it is terrible and morally reprehensible, but I will entertain the idea for whatever cathartic reason I need at the moment.” Best example that won’t scare the crap out of you guys is during an exam first year, I had no idea what the Model Penal Code (yes Sarah, I hear you snickering. Penal) had to say about Strict Liability Crimes, and I went to the bathroom, and found myself staring at my locker, which had my textbook in it. I could have gone and looked it up, and probably, no one would have seen. I didn’t because a) that would be cheating and b) that “probably” was not good enough odds to try it. My point is, I admit that I do this, and I don’t demand Basically Decent Human Being cookies for not following through on my thoughts.)
Anyway, Sabrina wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, and somehow ends up naked and Ridge is like “LET THE SEXY TIMES COMMENCE” and because this is 1988 and we are still at that point in the development of the romance narrative, Sabrina doesn’t want to and he’s all insistent and she submits and then is mad at him, and he can’t figure out why.
So not even a “Congrats on being a basically decent human being” cookie, then.
THEN they run into an old man and his granddaughter who’s ranch just got burned out by a band of Native Americans (We will get into the depiction of Native Americans, I promise). Clarice, the granddaughter, decides that Ridge is the greatest thing since sliced bread (except there is no sliced bread yet, so he’s the greatest thing EVER) and sets her cap (and everything else) for him, while the grandfather decides this widow/dowager/she-dragon/beldam that HE NEVER SEES WITHOUT HER VEIL is the best thing ever and starts courting Sabrina.
The four of them make it to a fort, and Sabrina tries to have a heart-to-heart with Clarice, finally telling her that Ridge is just a manwhore ho would never be true to her, and to prove it, Clarice should park herself at Ridge’s window and she’ll see that he’s so controlled by his dick that he’ll even fuck an old woman. So Sabrina goes in, and they start making out, and Clarice flips outs and marches them to the chaplain with a shotgun and demands that they get married. So they do.
(at this point, it is important to remember that Ridge still thinks Sabrina is Samantha Stewart.)
Sabrina and Ridge then leave to go on to Las Vegas (a “sleepy little pueblo”) and she changes her disguise into that of a nun- he made her promise to put the widow’s weeds away- and he’s all pout out about that. Then they get to Las Vegas, and she gets dragged into a discussion with the local priest, and Ridge finds himself on the receiving end of an attempted seduction by a local Spanish whore. Sabrina sees the attempt part, but not the “NO THANK YOU FOREVER” part, and rides off to Santé Fe on her own, thinking Ridge is a horrible cheating manwhore and she never wants to see him again NOT EVER. Ridge, doesn’t realize Sabrina saw him and just thinks SHE’S a flighty chit who is a terrible, horrible, no good person BUT HE IS STILL MARRIED TO HER GODDAMNIT.
At this point, I’m just tired. He finds out who she is really when she’s performing in Santa Fe under Yet Another Assumed Identity, and finally they actually have it out and determine that their goals are the same, they sort of work together in between bouts of acrobatic fucking.
The whole “Sabrina goes to solve her father’s murder/mysterious court martial” plot is confusing, but there were guys at the fort who were smuggling supplies out and her father figured it out, and so they had to eliminate him, whatever. Sabrina and Ridge sort it out, and then decide that they are just Too Different and their relationship would Never Work, and she goes back to her theater troupe in Boston.
Oh, and pregnant.
So a year passes, Sabrina and the theater troupe are in Washington, as is Ridge, while he’s trying to save the Navajo from extinction. He finds her at a party, and then finds out she had a kid, and first gets mad that she jumped into bed with another dude after he taught her all about the sex, then figures out (from doing the math, even though no one told him how old the kid was) that he was the father, then gets all mad that she never told him.
They fight and he says “you and the baby are coming to New Mexico!” and she’s all “MY CAREER ASSHOLE” and
Okay, other than the over wrought prose, and I really wish this were an ebook file so I could find out exactly how many time the word “chit” was used, this book has just too much going on. TOO FUCKING MUCH. One of the many differences I’ve seen in a lot of the Old School historical and the more modern historicals is a toning down of plot.
All that said, the constant use of disguises is really awesome ridiculousness. The fact that she thought she’d be able to get away with it, being a dowager widow beldam all the way from Independence, MO to Santa Fe is insanity in the best way.
What drove me crazy about these two, other than her wide, trembling violet eyes, is that CONSTANT jumping to conclusions and making huge decisions bashed on those conclusions. “You are clearly fucking another woman!” and instead of busting through the door and being all “THE HELL YOU SAY” Sabrina just hops on a horse and goes. By herself. From Las Vegas to Santa Fe. Or “YOU HAVE A BABY CLEARLY YOU HAVE BEEN FUCKING ANOTHER MAN (even though we had no understanding of our relationship and mutually broke it off, but WHATEVER I AM STILL ANGRY).” Stop. Think for half a second and maybe try to have a conver-
Who am I kidding? These two have never had a real conversation with anyone ever.
The final thing to talk about is the subplot of Ridge and the Navajo reservation. (The governor or commander of the fort in New Mexico decides he wants the reservation land, and plans to move all the Navajos from the current, more-or-less adequate reservation to a much worse reservation that the Navajo get because it’s such shitty land no one else wants it. Ridge is trying to prevent that.) It feels a little shoehorned in, like the author had an agenda, which is fine, I have agendas with reviews all the time. But the thing about it that gives me a bad taste in my mouth is the whole Mighty Whitey trope. Ridge has been raised by Native Americas, and because the Best Native American that ever Native Americaned, and is now determined to save them by working from within the government
I mean, it kind of makes sense, right? He can walk both sides, blah blah blah, but I’m not convinced that it’s that reasonable to expect that the government and society would be that thrilled about a dude raised by “savages” trying to tell them what to do. And the trope of “white dude that does better than the natives at being a native” is SO overdone and frankly damaging that I hated it. But I was not inclined to like Ridge all that much anyway, with his Alphole tendencies.
But the audacity of Sabrina disguising her away across the American southwest is so over the top that I can’t flunk this book flat out.