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The Man From Stone Creek    by Linda Lael Miller order for
Man From Stone Creek
by Linda Lael Miller
Order:  USA  Can
Harlequin, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

A band of outlaws has been wreaking havoc in Arizona Territory and both the US and Mexican authorities want them stopped. Ranger Sam O'Ballivan rides into the border town of Haven posing as the new schoolteacher.

His first order of business is rescuing the outgoing schoolmaster from the shenanigans of young troublemaker Terran Chancellor. Sam takes Terran to task and warns him that he will not tolerate such behavior in the future. His next order of business is calling on Terran's sister Maddie, postmistress and manager of the local mercantile, to further discuss Terran's leanings towards delinquency. But once he steps into the tidy, well-stocked store, Sam realizes that the prim Miss Chancellor is a far cry from the gray haired spinster he expected.

Maddie is appalled at the charges the new schoolmaster levels against Terran and warns Sam that she could have him dismissed. Taking her threats as a challenge, he bids her a good day, certain they'll have a few more go-rounds over her brother. For a man reticent about giving away his heart, he discovers that he's looking forward to more sparring matches with the very lovely Miss Chancellor. Maddie too finds the new schoolmaster very appealing despite her niggling suspicions that there's much more to Mr. O'Ballivan than meets the eye.

Sam's teaching duties soon find him under the close scrutiny of the powerful Donagher family, whose patriarch Mungo owns many Haven businesses, including the mercantile, and whose three eldest sons may be part of the outlaw gang. After a secret cross-border meeting with his Federale counterpart Sam's suspicions about the Donaghers are confirmed. They also receive a reliable tip that the outlaws are planning on robbing a train of its fortune in Mexican gold. Sam must now keep his personal feelings in check long enough to nab the culprits while all hell breaks loose in Haven, leaving Maddie wondering if she'll ever see the handsome schoolmaster again.

Linda Lael Miller is the Louis L'amour of western romantic fiction. Only better. The Man From Stone Creek has it all: it's steeped in old west jargon, history and atmosphere and peopled with a who's who of unforgettable characters. Miller has a real knack for portraying western heroes and Sam O'Ballivan is one Arizona ranger you won't soon forget - especially in his dual role as a no-nonsense schoolmaster and steely-eyed lawman determined to bring in the bad guys. He also has a huge soft spot for strays, whether animal or human.

Maddie is another of Miller's trademark western woman - tough, loyal, feisty and determined to make her own way in the world. There's also plenty of humour in this story. But Miller never sugarcoats or overly romanticize the dangers and the often unforgiving harshness that was so much a part of the old west - not only of the land itself but also the people who settled it. She keeps readers guessing as to the identity of the outlaws and an additional last minute plot twist makes this revelation even more satisfying.

If you have a hankering for a good old-fashioned western with plenty of action, adventure and romance, and a truly unique hero, then don't miss The Man From Stone Creek. And stay tuned for a sequel starring mysterious cowpoke Rowdy Rhodes in the very near future.

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