Latigo, a scout for the U. S. Army, is ambushed and shot while guiding two government agents through the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The agents were instantly killed in the attack, and Latigo barely escaped with his life. He got a glimpse of the perpetrators and is certain it was white men who did it, but since there are no other witnesses to corroborate his story, he knows that as a half-breed he'll be the prime suspect for the agents' deaths and will likely hang for it. The only person Latigo thinks he may be able to trust is a man whose life he saved a few years earlier and as a result the man owes him a favor. Exhausted and bleeding, Latigo makes his way toward the man's ranch, only to pass out on the front stoop.
Rose Colby's husband passed away, leaving her alone with an infant son. Before meeting her husband, her parents were murdered by Apaches who attacked their wagon train, leaving her the sole survivor. She has every reason to hate the Indians, but when Latigo shows up severely injured and claims that her husband owes him a debt of gratitude, she reluctantly takes him in. Gradually she comes to trust him, but as Latigo begins to reveal information that might implicate her dead husband in illegal activities, she knows she must try to clear both his name and Latigo's. Rose and Latigo work together, but the closer they get to the truth, the more dangerous it becomes as the real villains will do anything to keep them from revealing what they know, including committing murder.
Apache Fire is my first read by Elizabeth Lane and a good introduction to her work. It's an American frontier/western story that also contains an element of mystery and suspense. The hero is shot while guiding two U. S. government agents on a tour of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The agents were killed, and knowing that he would be blamed, our intrepid hero goes on the run. The only person he thinks he might be able to trust is a man whose life he'd saved a few years earlier, so he heads for the man's ranch, not knowing the man had recently passed away. Instead, he finds the man's lovely widow, who is extremely wary of Apaches. The two forge a tentative friendship that gradually turns into something more as they investigate her dead husband's connection to illegal activities being committed by a group known as the Indian Ring and try to clear the hero's name. Apache Fire is chock full of action and adventure with a lot happening to keep the reader engaged. There's also a mystery that slowly unravels. While the reader will know right away who the bad guy is, it takes our hero and heroine a while longer to figure things out. Also, the extent of the villain's treachery and how they expose his unscrupulous activities, as well as how they avoid falling victim to the Ring themselves, leads to a lot of edge-of-you-seat suspense. While not a perfect read for me, this was still a good book that kept me reading and engaged my attention throughout.
Latigo is half Apache/half Spanish Basque. Of course, he's considered a half-breed and doesn't really fit neatly into any one cultural world. As a very young child, he spent some time in Mexico, but never really knew his father. Later he and his mother returned to her people in the Arizona Territory, where he spent most of his childhood until she died. Then he was sent to live in the White world with a minister and his wife, which was a traumatic experience for him. Despite suffering abuse at their hands, the opportunity to learn to read and write inspired big dreams in him of doing something significant for the Apaches. That was all dashed, though, by the need to make a hasty escape from his living situation. After that Latigo became a scout for the U. S. Army, which eventually led to where he is when the story opens, wounded and riding toward the ranch of a man who owes him a debt of gratitude in hopes that he'll help. I liked Latigo. He's smart, very conscientious, and good at what he does. He deserved far better than what life has handed him, but like most Native Americans and half-breeds of that era, he found himself the object of gross racism and discrimination. Just being near Rose was a huge risk, as he could have been hung simply for touching her. Although it was very hard to read other characters in the story expressing extreme racist views, I felt that it made the story more realistic.
Rose is a brave and feisty heroine, who still has moments of vulnerability. She came west with her parents when she was just seventeen, but they were killed in an Apache raid on their wagon train. She was found a couple of days later by John, the man who became her husband, wandering the desert in shock. John took her to his ranch and later married her. He was a good man in his own way, whom Rose deeply respected, but he definitely wasn't a particularly good husband. He was considerably older than Rose, and only cared about her as someone who could keep house for him and produce the heirs he wanted, so when she failed to do so, he blamed her. One day while he was out riding alone, John sustained a serious head injury from presumably being thrown by his horse. He became an invalid who Rose nursed until he passed away. Not long after that, Rose finally gave birth to the son he'd always wanted. She viewed her husband as a hero, and wanted to keep his legacy alive for their child, but when Latigo shows up, he tells her things that begin to place John's goodness and respectability in doubt. Not too surprisingly, Rose is afraid of Latigo at first and doesn't like him much, but I liked that her Quaker upbringing helps her to gradually come to accept him. As Latigo helps her around the ranch and offers his protection, she comes to realize that not all Apaches are bad, just like not all Whites are good. He's also able to give her the passion and gentleness that were missing in her marriage to John, and cares deeply for her infant son as well.
Apache Fire was a well-put-together story, albeit one that is more plot driven than character driven. There were a few times I thought perhaps the author could have let up a little on the suspenseful tension, in favor of more romance, but I can't deny that it kept me reading. The characters had interesting backstories, but their pasts didn't come into play in the story in an emotional way as much as I would have liked. The relationship also develops pretty quickly over only a week or two, so the declarations of love came pretty fast. There is some decent sexual tension, but not a whole lot of tender emotions or romantic interludes, so that's the main reason I knocked off one star. However, there was just enough for me to believe in their HEA. On the upside, I could tell as I read along that the author had done her research very well. Although I didn't know until looking them up later that some of the background characters mentioned, as well as the Indian Ring itself, were real, I could sense that they were, because there was an authenticity to those parts of the story. Also as someone who lives in the desert southwest, I felt that the author did a good job of making the setting come alive with her environmental descriptions. So, kudos to Elizabeth Lane for doing her homework and for her attention to detail. Overall, this first foray into her writing was a satisfying one that has left me open to trying more of her work in the future.
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