The Wild One is Denise Eagan’s second novel, the followup to her well-received debut, Wicked Woman. This historical romance is set in the American Old West, beginning in post-Civil War San Francisco, and the plot meanders around through Colorado and finally to Texas not far from the Mexican border. Shakespearean actress Jessica Sullivan shares a tiny flat with her fellow actress Michelle, a Midwestern jezebel stage actress who bleaches her hair and pretends to be French. Unlike her sensual roommate, who has a whole host of lovers, Jessica is “frigid” and celibate, not just because she is actually married (her estranged ne’er-do-well husband abandoned her six years ago), but because she truly believes that she does not enjoy sex. Lonely and miserable Jessica takes comfort in her supposed frigidity, but finds herself shaken out of her comfort zone when she is attracted to Lee Montgomery, a free-spirited professional gambler and general scoundrel who also happens to be Michelle’s current flavor-of-the-month boyfriend.
Jessica has been saving all the money earns from acting over the past six years to pay back her family for the money her estranged husband helped her steal from them. But instead of using a bank (which were notorious for sudden failures in the 1800s), Jessica asked the manager of her acting troupe to “hold” it for her. When the troupe manager suddenly shuts down the San Franscisco show and insists the troupe move to Denver, she discovers that he hasn’t “held” the money for her at all—instead, he’s used it to support his gambling habit, and every cent of the money she’s saved over the past six years is gone. Desperate and broke, Jessica engages Lee’s help to confront her boss—-and instead they find him dead, murdered from a slit throat. Jessica and Lee are framed for the murder and have to flee on horseback across the frontier to avoid death by hanging. Passion, drama, and excitement ensue—-and I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away too many spoilers.
The Wild One is a sexy, engaging read, but it is not without its flaws. For example, there are a lot of jarring anachronisms that deter from the historical setting, especially in the characters’ speech. Many conversations sound a lot more twenty-first-century than they do nineteenth century (no Victorian-era person ever said “OK”, let alone in every other sentence) and even though Michelle’s French accent is supposed to be fake and her French phrases and grammar poor, that doesn’t excuse the author (or editor) for misspelling tons of French words. (I minored in French in college, so I am a real stickler for that). Plus, the copy editor really seemed out to lunch on this book—-it’s riddled with typos, from missing words and skipped phrases to rampant misspelling (I recall seeing the word “brooch” misspelled three different ways on the SAME PAGE).
If you can get past the typos, anachronisms, and somewhat clunky beginning, though, The Wild One is still an entertaining book. The plot is suspenseful and keeps you turning the pages, and the love scenes are appropriately steamy.I look forward to Denise Eagan’s future books as she continues to develop her career.
THREE STARS (out of 5)