by Sara Luck
Genres: Historical Romance
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Phoebe Sloan isn’t afraid of hard work—she couldn’t have survived on the Arizona frontier if she were. But ever since her husband was killed in a ranch accident, she’s struggled to make ends meet and preserve her young son’s birthright. Her last gamble was to start raising ostriches—the plumes are prized by fashionable city ladies—and it could work, but someone’s determined to sabotage her efforts.
Enter Christian de Wet, a South African importer who finds himself drawn to the fragile but determined Phoebe. He begins helping her around the ranch as a kindness, but the two quickly find that the heat rising between them has nothing to do with the Arizona desert! When the saboteur finds a way to endanger not just the ranch, but Phoebe’s family, will she have to forsake her happiness to save her son?
Under the Desert Sky by Sara Luck is a historical romance set in the Arizona frontier. It offers a standalone fade to black romance with a strong heroine, suspense and ostriches. Well-paced with interesting character and a picturesque setting I quickly devoured Under the Desert Sky.
I love historical romance and jumped at the chance to read this frontier novel. Phoebe Sloan is a widowed homesteader with a four-year-old son. She is desperately trying to save their land and her son’s birthright. In the 1900’s Ostrich, feathers were the height of fashion in America and England. Phoebe is trying to raise them but someone is sabotaging her efforts. She knows who the culprit is and refuses to comply with his wishes. I liked Phoebe she is tough and while she feels guilt about somethings, she is a good mother and doing the best she can.
Christian de Wet, a South African importer is delivering ostriches to a neighboring farm and enjoying a visit to the Americas. During a meeting between farmers, he meets Phoebe and is intrigued. When her hands are off celebrating Mexico’s Independence someone breaks into her hatchery. Christian unwilling to leave a vulnerable woman and child alone soon finds himself protecting Phoebe, her son and the farm.
The chemistry between Christian and Phoebe was sweet and I loved the banter. This was a slow-building romance that vied for attention with the suspense angle. I would have liked Christian to communicate more, I knew how he felt but Phoebe struggled and was unsure. Luck weaved in some hilarious moments between the characters, Phoebe’s son and others. I quickly found myself caught up in the raising of ostriches and these hardworking folks. Secondary characters added to the tale, even an unwelcome competitor for Christian’s affections. I adored a certain four-year old and his ostrich.
The suspenseful thread regarding the farm gave us a villain to loathe, weaved in some danger and balanced out the swoon-worthy moments. Luck touched on racism and I enjoyed how she weaved in those messages. We even experienced some brief glimpses of the political climate in the US, changes to the waterways and more. These extras enhanced my enjoyment of the story.
Under the Desert Sky delivered a sweet romance and a fascinating look at life on the Arizona frontier.
Read an Excerpt
Phoebe Sloan took off her brown felt hat and wiped her brow with the back of her sleeve as she rested on her rake. It’d been a long time since the last rain, yet a cloud was gathering in the west. She looked over to see that Trinidad was still mowing the alfalfa, so she began waving her hat to get his attention.
“Don’t you want me to finish the mowin’, Miss Phoebe?” her hired man asked.
“No, I want you to help Cornello get what’s cut into haycocks.”
“It’s not dry yet. Shouldn’t we leave it in the swath?”
“Yes, but if it rains, it’s ruined. So stop and help Cornello.”
Trinidad lifted the sickle bar and moved toward Cornello, who was at the other end of the field. Soon the two men, who were both in their sixties, were pitching the hay into mounds.
Phoebe had been out in the sun for most of the day. She’d made a pallet for Will in the shade of a mesquite tree, and the two of them had eaten lunch together before her son had fallen asleep. She walked over to see if he was awake.
There was Will, her beautiful four-year-old, resting innocently on the patchwork quilt. She smiled when she saw where he’d built a house out of sticks, and fences out of seed pods. All his carved ostriches were separated into pairs.
Phoebe shook her head, wondering how many children would find enjoyment by playing with carved ostriches. She looked toward the sky. The cloud was getting darker, but she was reluctant to wake the sleeping child. Instead, she walked to the other side of the tree and knelt down beside her husband’s grave, where she began rearrang- ing the rocks that outlined the site.
“I need to talk to you, Edwin.” She said the words conversationally as if her husband were sitting beside her. “I went to see Mr. Forbes this week to renegotiate the loan. He said he’d drop the interest rate to four percent if I could pay five percent by the end of the summer.” Her voice began to shake. “I don’t know if I can do it. Buck tells me Mr. Prinsen wants to buy every ostrich in the valley, but if I sell our birds now, I won’t have any way to make a living.”
“You’re a fool, Phoebe.”
Phoebe jumped when she recognized her brother-in-law’s voice. “Frank, what’re you doing here?”
“I came to talk to you. Charles Forbes told me you’d been in to see him.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Oh, yes it is. That’s my nephew over there, and I won’t let you kill him like you did my brother.”
Phoebe took a deep breath, but didn’t speak. They’d had this conversation before.
“You know what he did was because of you and your big ideas. What fool thinks there’s money to be made in ostrich feathers?”
“Mr. Prinsen thinks there’s money in it.”
“He grew up in South Africa—he knows some- thing about ostriches, and there’s one thing he has that you don’t: money. Haven’t you learned that it takes a lot of money to keep this place going?”
“Our first birds are mature now—all it takes to keep them is alfalfa.”
“That’s a lie. You keep those two old men around. What do you pay them?”
Again Phoebe didn’t answer.
“Whatever it is, it’s too much. You should sell out and move into town.”
“I won’t do that. Not as long as there’s a breath in my body.” Phoebe gritted her teeth.
“It won’t be long until you’ll be lying right there beside Edwin. Have you looked at yourself lately? You look like a dried prune. Your hair is always a mess, your clothes are in tatters. What money you do have, you pour back into this worthless piece of sand.”
By now, tears were streaming down Phoebe’s face.
“I’ve told you before, I’ll take care of you.” Frank’s voice softened. “You don’t have to be here.”
“Yes, you have told me before, and you’ve told me what I have to do to earn it. But no matter how desperate I might get for money, I’ll never warm your bed, Frank Sloan.”
Frank stepped up to Phoebe. He wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Never say never, my dear Phoebe. You might find my bed much more to your liking than you ever found my brother’s.”
Phoebe slapped Frank hard.
A sardonic smile crossed his face. “A spit- fire—that’s what I like about you. If only it had been me that came to your bed that night, Will would’ve been my son.”
Just then, in the distance, thunder rumbled.
Phoebe left Frank standing by his brother’s grave as she gathered Will in her arms and ran to the house.
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