I was captivated by the idea of a book set against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but it was just bonus when I discovered the protagonists were a lady doctor and a Texas Ranger. This is one humdinger in its length and its scope. The story felt long, but for the life of me I can’t imagine cutting one part out to shorten it because each piece of the story was interesting for various reasons.
It was lush and rich in historical authenticity, cultural elements and social issues of the time without feeling pedantic or like a textbook. The characters were real and they were flawed as well as captivating and passionate in their beliefs. The romance was sweet and took a back seat to the overall storyline, but yet it was what tied the characters together and gave them the impetus to see things through. I enjoyed how love found a way even though many times priorities, goals and emotions made it seem impossible for the hero and heroine to stand a chance.
The story is told from the third person point of view alternating between Billy and Hunter. It opens when Billy is running late to give her lecture to the Women’s Congress at the Women’s building at the Chicago World’s Fair. The hall has filled so the guards are turning everyone away and don’t believe her when she claims to be one of the guest lecturers. Billy improvises by letting a lady help her sneak in through a basement window. Her efforts give one of the guards a nice view of her bloomer clad legs when she goes in backward. She is mortified, but presses on to give her lecture. The lecture results in her being offered a position as one of the medical doctors in the women’s building. This is good news because Billy hasn’t had any success hanging up her shingle as a lady doctor. She has struck out on her own in a man’s profession in a man’s world determined to show that she is a professional and equal. Her continuing encounters with the Columbian Guardsman, Texas Ranger Hunter Scott, only make her more determined than ever, but those encounters also leave her feeling like she is missing out on just being a woman for the first time. Sharing responsibility for an abandoned baby and their concern for the tenement children in the west side of Chicago leaves her enjoying his companionship and dreaming that Hunter might just be the one man to accept a wage-earning wife.
Hunter Scott is determined to distinguish himself at the fair to further his dream to captain in the Rangers and prove to the government types that the Rangers shouldn’t be disbanded. Unfortunately, he has conflicting priorities. His rescue of an innocent child from jail, his work to build a playground for the poor kids to give them somewhere to play out of the diseased streets and other dangerous idle pursuits, finding a foundling child’s parent and need to investigate and help another innocent child accused of murder leaves him skating on thin ice with his temporary boss, the Colonel of the special guardsmen like himself who work the fair. His focus is also distracted by the bewitching lady doctor with the boy names, Billy Jack Tate. He is frustrated by her fierce independent spirit that insists she is man’s equal and can do anything. She rushes headlong into dangerous situations when she goes into the poorer areas of town even at night to volunteer and help the families, she nearly gets arrested, beat up, molested and right dab in the middle of a murder investigation, but he tries to be there to rescue her. She challenges is thinking and what he really desires, but he knows in spite of their mutual attraction and even love that he can’t give up Texas and the Rangers and she won’t give up Chicago or her doctoring. That leaves them with no middle ground.
The strong personalities of the characters made me really enjoy their scenes together though they both got hard-headed at times. The scene where Hunter was brought to Billy’s infirmary had me so embarrassed for the poor guy, not his finest hour for sure though there was some humor. His mulishness was understandable under those circumstances. Billy is more mulish because she always feels like she has something to prove. I suppose that’s how it would have been for a gal with her ambitions back then. It got her into trouble because she was overcompensating and running around with a chip on her shoulder, but it was great when she figured out that Hunter respected her and it was okay to rely on others once in a while. It was okay to compromise too and that was something they had to both learn.
All in all, I found the story engaging and want to read more from this new to me author. Lovers of sweet Historical Romance that is strong on the historical authenticity as well as the romance should try this one. This was the second book in the series, but it is fine as a standalone as it takes place parallel to the first story and totally unconnected other than the cameo appearance of the first books protagonists in a quick scene.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read the book in exchange for an honest review.