One Shingle to Hang by Deann Smallwood

When Lil looked to the future, all she ever saw was the law. She’s defied family expectations, not to mention societal norms, to open her own law practice. Marriage never seemed to be on the table. But all of that changes when one rugged cowboy with a threat against his life walks in seeking her help. 

What’s it About? 

A woman with too much knowledge was at risk for insanity. Her fragile mind couldn’t handle it. That’s what Lil had been told when she went against convention and became an attorney. The 1800’s had fewer women lawyers than women doctors. Her pride knew no bounds when she hung her shingle—L.M. Wentfield, Attorney At Law.

Drew was a struggling cattle rancher, building a fledgling Hereford empire. He was working toward that goal when he was accused of rustling and faced possible hanging. He needed a lawyer—a good one—a man. Chesterfield had one lawyer—a new one—L.M. Wentfield. He wasn’t prepared for a beautiful blonde with a sharp tongue and fiercely won independence.

Lil had no homemaking abilities. Her love was the law. And if the thoughts of the gray-eyed cowboy, who had the audacity to refuse her legal help, stayed in her mind, she’d push them aside. She had nothing to offer a rancher . Even her wealth wouldn’t be considered an asset to a prideful man. And Drew Jackson was proud. So proud, he knew he couldn’t ask a woman of Lil’s stature to share his life—but he wanted to—from the moment he’d stolen that first kiss.

First Impressions

This is a cute, light-hearted read whose synopsis was unfortunately more enticing than the story itself. I’m always excited to pick up a historical romance that will regal us with a strong female character who is “ahead of her time”. While Lil was certainly a headstrong and quick-witted female lead, I was rather disappointed we didn’t get to see her engage more with the law. After moving to this small mountain town with the goal of opening her own law practice, the most lawyer-ly activity we see her pursue is writing up an ironclad will for her first ever client who deigned to giver her a chance. When it comes to helping Drew, the dashing cattle rancher in need of legal help, Lil almost transforms more into an intelligent private detective than a lawyer.

She even goes so far as to set up a sting operation with the local sheriff to catch Drew’s accuser in a lie. An entertaining scene to be sure, but I was holding out hope for a dramatic courtroom argument where Lil could truly showcase her law prowess. The fact we are never privy to one scene in court throughout the entirety of the novel was the peak of disappointment, not to mention that Drew’s drama is resolved quite early on in the novel. Even though an act of revenge from Drew’s nemesis is hinted at in the beginning, it’s a threat which never comes to fruition. Instead the focus of the novel switches to the budding romance between Drew and Lil, which was certainly an adorable relationship you proceed to root for, but the flow of the story probably could have benefited from bringing the conflict involving Drew’s land and cattle business back full circle. As things stood, that particular story line was left feeling unfinished. 

The High Point

While the story didn’t quite live up to the hype of the synopsis, one area where this novel truly excelled was in the characters. This is a world you want to live in, or at least have the opportunity to visit, merely in the hopes of sitting down to a cookout with our outspoken female lawyer, her devilishly handsome and selfless rancher, the candid yet caring housekeeper and her precocious granddaughter, just to name a few. Even our villains were characters you loved to hate, from the nefarious cowboy who has his sights set on Drew’s ranch, to Lil’s conservative parents who threaten to stand in the way of everything she’s built for herself. I can’t remember the last time I was so inclined to don a pair of gloves, merely so I could rip them off to haughtily slap a fictional character’s face.

Even though the author should be commended for the creation of such distinct and hypnotizing personalities, it was also a little disappointing to see the introduction of some fascinating characters at the start of the novel, only to have them fade away from the story completely by the midway point. I think this can once again be attributed to the flow of the plot, which was too distinctly segmented into Lil setting up shop, Drew seeking her help with his legal troubles, and then the slow evolution of their romantic relationship after his legal conflict is resolved. This meant that when one segment was settled, there wasn’t an attempt to bring back some of the characters and drama from that section into a later one.

Series: Chesterfield Colorado series, book 1. Though a sweet read, I’m not sure I’ll continue on with this series. 

Final Impressions: Greater cohesion for how this story unfolded, as well as further incorporation of Lil’s law knowledge, really could have made this historical romance a standout read. It seemed like an odd choice to suggest that the source of Drew’s legal drama at the beginning would come back to seek revenge against him and Lil, but then abandon that story line completely. The book as a whole is relatively conflict free, so to bring in Lil’s parents as the final source of drama for the book felt random compared to the possibility of fully resolving the outstanding risk of Drew’s nemesis. Lastly, every great legal story, from Philadelphia to My Cousin Vinny has an exciting courtroom scene of opposing counselors, so never giving Lil the chance to prove herself in court seemed like a wasted opportunity for some delightful entertainment. 

Smut Level: The most sensual moment of this read is when Drew and Lil share a jug of lemonade together in a shaded, hidden meadow. Their clothes stay on the whole time, and the biggest step they take is a brush of lips, but there’s something about that lemonade scene, as they contemplate where each other’s lips have just been that will make you giddy with excitement. Who knew? 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. FREE Kindle book. Soul Mate Publishing, LLC. 213 Pages.  

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