Seventeen year old Ellie Fountain hates being a girl. She is sure that her father would have preferred having a son to help him run the family ranch, Fountainhead, perched in the beautiful Cumberland Hills above the town of Sparta, Tennessee. Ellie can’t even remember her mother, who died when she was an infant. Her dad is all she has, and she wants to prove to him that she is as capable as any man.
However, Tyler Bishop, the ranch foreman, keeps interfering with her goal. Ty is her father’s favorite, monopolizing her dad’s attention and admiration. Ellie suspects that Ty is scheming to steal her birthright by ingratiating himself with her father. Even if his intentions are honest, he doesn’t take her seriously, viewing her as “just a girl” despite the fact that she has grown up in the saddle and can ride, rope and handle a shotgun as well as any of the ranch hands.
Ben Fountain needs all the help he can get. Newcomer Dude Bryant and his twin sons, Jeb and Joshua, are putting pressure on him and the other locals to sell their land. When persuasion isn’t sufficient, the Bryants appear quite willing to use intimidation and other unsavory tactics. Secretly, Ellie buys herself a pistol and teaches herself to use it, in order to assist in defending Fountainhead. When Ty and her father discover her ambitions, though, her father scolds her and Ty belittles her.
Despite his dismissive behavior, Ellie can’t stop thinking about Ty. The feelings that he evokes are puzzling, disturbing and thrilling, even though the two of them spend most of their time in each other’s presence arguing. When her father convinces Ty to invite Ellie to the annual harvest dance down in Sparta, Ellie’s excitement at the prospect of being close to Ty overwhelms her annoyance at her father’s meddling. The night of the dance begins as a romantic idyll. However, misunderstandings between Ellie and Ty make her vulnerable to the evil plans of Jeb Bryant.
I greatly enjoyed reading Sparta Rose. Ellie is a fabulous character, distinctive and believable. She’s brash and funny, sometimes silly, sometimes strong. Her conflicting emotions and volatile moods fit in well with her tender age. Ms. Simpson does an excellent job showing us her growing maturity in the face of danger and blossoming love.
I loved Tyler, too. He’s not the perfect, stereotyped romance hero. Sure, he’s handsome and capable, but he’s almost as confused and vulnerable as Ellie. He’s constantly putting his foot in his mouth and making her angry. The author doesn’t tell us how old Ty is, but he’s obviously pretty young and inexperienced himself, especially when it comes to women.
These two characters really carry the novel. Their banter comes alive on the pages. Although the plot somewhat predictable, the resolution did surprise me. Still, Jeb Bryant is portrayed as such a thorough villain, you know right away that he’s going to do something extremely nasty.
Sparta Rose is a sweet romance. There are some intense kisses, and some lustful feelings, but nothing more explicit. Although I tend to write much more graphic romance myself, I didn’t feel disappointed at all by the lack of sex in this novel. It fit with the main characters, both of whom were new to love.
If you like sweet romance with a western flavor, I highly recommend Sparta Rose. The cover is a perfect image of Ellie: slender and feminine, strong and proud, loving and defending her Tennessee home.