I'm still on a Harlequin Historical reading binge, and yesterday I zipped through The Tracker by Mary Burton. Technically not an HH title, it was a "special release" for the on-going Montana Mavericks series. But it looks like an HH, smells like an HH, and reads like one - so I say it's an HH.
Burton is a little hit or miss for me because, while I tend to love her heroines, her heroes have a tendency to be a bit rough around the edges. I've enjoyed some of her books more than others, and after finishing The Tracker I've decided I really need to hunt up the missing titles of her back list that I never got around to getting. She's very consistent.
Nick Baron is the baddest bounty hunter in the west. Outlaws fear him, which is just the way he likes it, but so do decent folk. He's growing weary of the lifestyle, so decides that maybe it's time to hang up his spurs. Then his best friend gets killed during a train robbery, and Nick decides to hunt down the outlaws responsible.
The outlaws are holed up in a brothel in Butte, Montana. One of the brothers married a sporting girl, and she's very pregnant. Waiting outside for the meaner brother to show up, Nick literally runs into a woman fleeing the house with a baby in her arms. He lets her go, because by this time the villain has shown up, shot his brother for swindling him out of his half of the gold, and the man escapes.
Nick soon figures out that the woman with the baby is his only clue to that missing gold and the outlaw still at large. Ellie Watson delivered the baby, although the mother died when she began hemorrhaging. She begged Ellie to keep the baby safe and raise her as her own. Ellie, while raised in the brothel, only worked in the kitchens and somehow managed to keep herself from working "upstairs." The baby's mother, Jade, was really the brains behind the outlaws and Nick figures that she told Ellie (the last person to see her alive) where the gold was stashed. But if Nick thinks that, so does the outlaw who is still at large - and Ellie is in danger.
Ellie ran to a coach stop, where she works and lives with the baby. Nick shows up, she gets frightened and shoots him (who says this girl needs protecting?). Thinking that Nick is a marshal, and fearful that she'll hang (plus she's a nice girl), she nurses him back to health.
This is a fairly conventional story written in a clean style. It's extremely readable, and I zipped through the majority of it on my lunch break. Ellie's nice, Nick is nice, and the villain is suitably villainous. The only quibble here is that the ending is very abrupt. Basically it's bang, bang, The End. Normally I can take or leave epilogues, but dang this story needs one bad. Because of that, it felt incredibly rushed towards the end and knocked my final grade down to a B-.