He makes her feel safe—when he isn’t accusing her of murder…
Hettie Jamison lost her husband in 1892 and now, two years later, her ranch hand has been murdered and her cattle are being rustled. When the sheriff of Flagstaff, Arizona, Jake La Force, comes to investigate, Hettie’s foreman hints at her guilt and Jake interrogates her. Hurt and angry, Hettie tries to deny the attraction between them and orders Jake off her property. But he won’t stay away, using every excuse to come back and continue his assault on her heart.
He’s determined to make her love him—but she’s putting up one hell of a fight…
A tough, no-nonsense lawman, Jake is surprised to find himself falling deeply in love after just one look into Hettie’s fiery, golden eyes. While trying to solve the murder and rustling on her ranch, he must deal with suspicion, jealousy, and horse theft—not to mention a troubled young girl who’ll stop at nothing to have Jake for herself. Jake knows he must overcome nearly insurmountable odds to claim Hettie for his own…he also knows this feisty and fiercely independent widow just might be the death of him.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Jake’s Song by Ramona Forrest, Hettie Jamison’s life changes drastically when she finds her oldest ranch hand murdered out on a remote corner of her ranch. It’s not bad enough that she loses a beloved old ranch hand, but now the sheriff suspects her in the murder and she has no idea why. Still, as angry as she is about his suspicions, she can’t resist the way the man makes her feel, at least when he isn’t accusing her of murder. For his part, Jake LaForce doesn’t really believe that Hettie is guilty, regardless of what her foreman says, but why should he tell her that when it gives him an excuse to ride out and see her?
I really enjoyed the story, even though historical westerns aren’t my thing. But I liked the characters and the byplay between them. I also thought that Forrest wrote with an authenticity that either comes from countless hours of research, or from knowing a lot of really old cowboys. Forrest seems to have a good understanding on how life must have been for women in the old west, and especially for women who were widowed. It tickled me to hear the eighteen-year-old girl, who also wants Jake, refer to twenty-eight-year-old Hettie as “so old.” It really gives you an idea of how hard life was on people back then if 28 was “old.”
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Jake’s Song by Ramona Forrest is the sequel, sort of, to Stranger on the Tonto. It has some of the same characters and, while it is its own separate story, it does continue at least one theme from the first book. (No I’m not telling which one—you have to read the book to find out.) Forrest again shows an uncanny understanding of life in the old west and she doesn’t shy away from addressing such things as body odor, which I imagine was a major problem when people didn’t have the ability to take regular baths. I thought her attention to details like, body odor, food storage, and meal preparation made the story a lot more in-depth and believable.
As usual, Forrest’s character development is first class. Her characters have depth and the author’s attention to detail makes you feel like you are right there in the scene with them. While she doesn’t dwell on the daily nitty-gritty, she does provide enough of a taste to give the reader an appreciation for how difficult life could be back then. It makes you realize how good we really have it, being able to take a shower every day if we want to and having appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. Her dialogue is also first rate. It is just different enough to let you know that you are in another time and place, but not so unusual that it takes away from the story. All in all, this is another excellent example of what a really good author can do with a little imagination.
Hettie Jamison started her ride on Diablo this early spring morning to quiet a dreadful fear that had settled into her bones. Restless with fear, anxiety, and a hefty sense of guilt she began her search for one of her ranch hands. Elmer, an older man, and eager to prove he was up for it, went out to take on the hunt for rustled cattle.
Her shimmering black horse, mettlesome and testy this early in the day, kept her mind and hands occupied controlling him. But Hettie, always eager to be outdoors, could not enjoy her ride today.
In a state of turmoil, she’d left her ranch house to ride—anything to help relieve her tension. ‘Doing is better than stewing,’ her long dead mother had often said. She remembered that, too, but worry kept her jaw gripped as tightly as the hands that ached inside her gloves.
Elmer, too old to be on a mission like this, or gone so long, was a proud man. He pulled his weight around the ranch, and rather than hurt his pride, she’d let him hunt for the missing steers. A lonely old man, he had no family, no one outside the ranch to care or worry about him. He’d been there forever, had come with the ranch when she and her husband bought it.
Elmer had settled into their everyday life, and with him gone, so was his kindly presence. He’s always enjoyed milking the cow, making cheese, working the vegetable garden, and taking care of the hen coop, mundane chores the other men despised.
The climate had warmed by this time. April in the northern part of Arizona Territory, 1894, was a fine month to be riding across the ranch. Hettie noted the new grass coming along, what there was of it. She smiled at her acceptance of their sparse cattle feed—it was nothing new to her.
Ranching in this part of the Arizona Territory required many acres to feed very few cattle. The ranch was hers, though a good part of it was through government leases that allowed ranchers in many western states enough acreage to feed a decent sized herd.
They’d had good snow cover this past winter, and the early spring melt had enriched and watered the poor, rocky soil. New growth sprang from the still dampened earth wherever it could, and the sight of the new grass helped renew her courage. Facing the problems she encountered daily as a lone female running a cattle ranch took about all the resourcefulness she had.
Though edgy with worry about her ranch hand, she appreciated the crisp, cool air, flowing past her taut features, and the smooth movements of her horse. The sweet air, and promise of coming warm weather, would have made the ride pleasant on any given day if not for fretting over Elmer Greenup.
Nearing the noon hour, she noticed the circling of buzzards over a rise to the west. She tensed in the saddle. That familiar and deadly sign sent her pulse racing. Now what? A dead animal? A sick foreboding spread throughout her body and into the pit of her stomach.
“Damnation, I hope it’s nothing more!” she uttered in fear as she guided Diablo toward the ghastly, bald-headed birds that kept the landscape clean of dead and rotting carcasses.
Closer to the fluttering of the black-feathered birds, she heard their noisy bickering as they circled and fought over every available bit of decaying flesh. It was a normal thing in the wild, but it always made her skin crawl to see those birds in action.
Diablo flung up his head in alarm at the flapping of huge black wings. She turned him aside, dismounted, and tied him upwind. He wouldn’t take to the smell of rotting flesh or go near the foul odor. Leaving him tied to a sturdy scrub oak, she walked the remaining distance to have a look. Her eyes narrowed, as she sought the cause of a gruesome buzzard’s feast.
“Oh God, no! That’s Elmer’s shirt, I’d know it anywhere. He wears it all the time.” Sickened and wanting to vomit, she took in the faded print, the partially shredded jacket, even his scuffed and nearly worn-out boots. But the bloated remains of his face, torn and partially missing, were not in any way recognizable. The buzzards had quickly gone for the softer facial parts, and their grisly work lay before her.
Hettie had allowed the old fellow to go alone on what had seemed a fool’s errand, and now she bore the guilt of seeing the poor old soul lying dead beneath the blazing sun.
The sight of his torn body fed her guilt, and her nausea was rising at the sickening stench. She came closer and saw a rounded, partially shattered hole in the dead man’s skull. The sight of it leaped out at her. “Oh no! My God, he must have run into those rustlers and they’ve shot him.”
He had to be over seventy if he was a day. I’m sure of it and I let him go on a wild goose chase. “Poor Elmer, your life has ended so badly.”
Looking about, she saw no wandering cattle nearby, only the awkward movements of the ghostly, red-headed birds. As scavengers, they kept the environment clean, but Hettie found it difficult to be thankful for that at the moment. They flapped and circled close by as they waited for another chance to tear at the old man’s remains in their horrid, scavenger’s way.
Some devil has shot poor Elmer and left him lying here to rot in the sun! She returned to her trembling horse. He nearly snapped his reins, wild-eyed and stamping his hooves at the vague scent of death on her. Hettie patted his gleaming neck. “Easy, Diablo, easy boy.” Murmuring words to gentle him, she reached behind the saddle, untied her slicker, and returned to the remains.
She spread the slicker over the pitiable body lying across the rocks, face up and exposed to the unrelenting processes of nature. I’ll have to get the sheriff out here. Maybe he can get to the bottom of this.
She secured the slicker with the largest rocks she could carry. Looking around the site, she spotted her husband’s old 1866 Yellow-Boy Winchester Carbine, carelessly thrown on the rocky ground. How on earth did Del’s old rifle get out here? Had it been left there by the murdering bastard who’d gunned Elmer down?
An uneasy feeling invaded her mind—someone had entered her house. But why? Who would steal that old relic and used it on poor Elmer? It was so old, why even bother with it? A treasure of her husband’s, he’d only shot it on rare occasions. The brass plating had new scratches on it, and someone had left it to rust or rot in the sun along with Elmer.
She hadn’t missed it from its place over the mantle. Maybe she’d been too preoccupied with the intense loneliness that continually haunted her days since the death of her husband, Del, and now, another death, another loss. Seeing Elmer lying there gave her a renewed feeling of hopelessness.
Fighting back the tears that threatened to flood her eyes, she longed for her husband, wishing for his warm, strong presence. She needed him. Her world had gone totally wrong the day her husband’s horse had stepped into a prairie dog hole, throwing him headlong into the rocks. A stupid accident took the love of her life, and marital partner, leaving her to tend a failing ranch on her own. If it hadn’t been for the recent mining leases, she’d have lost the place by now.
Upset that someone had entered her home, taken that rifle, used it, and thrown it away, like Elmer’s life, she decided it’d be best to leave it where it was. Best not touch anything, I suppose. Maybe that cold-eyed sheriff will know what to do. She hoped the big rocks around the edges of the slicker would keep the huge black, birds away from Elmer until she brought help.
Heading home, she dismissed the missing cattle from her thoughts. Fretting with anger, and a touch of anxiety, she covered the rocky ridges and gullies, her grip on the reins making her knuckles ache.
She’d found her ranch hand, but the knowledge that her home had been invaded and the rifle stolen added a sense of unease to her deep remorse and guilt. Tears splashed down her cheeks and onto the wide, delicately tooled, horn of her Mexican saddle.
She went over things on her ride back through the scrub oak and clumps of twisted red-barked Manzanita. Patting the shimmering neck of her glossy black stallion, she pulled his head up when he attempted a quick nip at the new bits of green growth along the way.
At the ranch house, Hettie found no one. Though tired and dispirited after what she’d seen, she couldn’t rest. The matter was too urgent. Packing biscuits, jerky, and a couple of apples, she headed for Flagstaff, a long ride. It was already late in the day. Her heart was heavy and her head was bowed as she rode. She mourned the loss of the faithful old cow hand. Her hands clenched frequently, and bitter tears flowed over the loss of Elmer. No one deserved to die that way.
She rode the same horse. He’d been ridden all day, but she wanted him under her for this trip. She loved and trusted the horse and had named him Diablo because of his color and haughty spirit.
She’d never known the name his former owner may have used. The man was dead—her friend, Cherry Carmona, had said. She’d declined to give Hettie any details, only saying that she never wanted to lay eyes on the horse or his overly fancy tack, ever again. The tone of her voice, and the way her friend had shuddered when she’d said it, let Hettie know it was better not to ask.
“I can’t bear the sight of that animal on my place,” were her friend’s parting words.
Hettie had given the splendid horse a new home along with his fancy tooled, silver-trimmed tack. It was indeed something to look at, and too fancy to use out in the brush this way, but Hettie had found the saddle very comfortable. Maybe her horse was overdressed when she used it, but she always did.
She glanced down to see how well his sides had healed from vicious spur marks left by the previous owner. Why such a horse ever needed spurs in the first place puzzled her. She’d come to love Diablo, and that he’d been ill-treated filled her with anger whenever she gave thought to it. Riding him, enjoying his smooth gait, she relaxed in the saddle. A stallion he might be, but she handled him well enough.
Well after dark, she reached the small, but growing, town of Flagstaff, Arizona. Located at a higher altitude, it was much colder and she felt the chill of the mountain air. The fumes and heavy metallic clanking of a passing freight train let her know for certain she’d just entered a big city. But compared to a metropolis like Phoenix, it would be considered a small town, little more than a village. She came here often for ranch supplies and the place was familiar to her.
She found the sheriff’s office and, seeing a lamp burning within, dropped Diablo’s reins over the hitching rail, stepped to the door, and pushed to open it. Finding it locked, she knocked and waited. She was very tired, and her patience had worn thin. Within a moment, she heard the shuffle of feet. The door was unlocked and opened.
A tall, thin-faced young man stood before her. “Yes, ma’am? Needin’ somethin’, are you?”
Hettie knew he’d been dozing by the befuddled look on his face, the tousled mess of his hair, and the way he rubbed his eyes.
“Yes, I need to see the sheriff if he’s around.”
“He won’t be in until the mornin’, ma’am.” His questioning look bade her offer more information. Coming fully alert, he opened the door wider and indicated she should enter. “I’m Lin Sloane, deputy here if you’re needin’ somethin’.”
“I’m here to report a death out at my ranch, but I guess morning will do. I’ve been riding all day and half the night.” Exhausted and bedraggled, Hettie didn’t care if she saw the sheriff right now. It wouldn’t help Elmer, and no way could she ride back tonight. “I’ll come back then.”
“Wait just a bit, ma’am.” The deputy motioned her to a seat. “Which ranch you talkin’ about, and who might you be?” the man asked, obviously seeking enough information to enlighten the sheriff when he came to the office in the morning.
Hettie gave her name and what details she had. When he was satisfied, she bid him goodnight. She headed to the town stables to board her horse. A sleepy boy came and took the stallion.
“Mighty fine horse there.” He patted Diablo’s neck. “I’ll feed him and rub him down. Don’t you worry none about him, ma’am.”
Satisfied as to Diablo’s care, Hettie walked back up Front Street to the Ayers Hotel, roused a sleepy-eyed clerk, and took a room. She quickly got the impression that being a lone woman out late like she was, raised a few eyebrows. But Hettie didn’t care. She had a reason for being out late.
She requested the comfort of enough warm water to clean up before seeking her bed. Too tired for dinner, she decided the lunch she’d had would have to suffice. She mourned the loss of her hand for a while, until utter fatigue overcame her, and she sought her bed. Tomorrow was time enough to meet that icy-eyed sheriff.
© 2013 by Ramona Forrest