I'd never read anything by this author before, but the excellent reviews this book kept getting (both here at Amazon and on other review sites) made me want to read it. And I'm glad I did! Though I don't usually read Americana/Western stories, the setting is post-civil war St Louis.
Chase Hardesty is a riverboat pilot who dreams of one day becoming captain of his own boat. It looks like his dream is about to come true when his employer offers him a deal: the captaincy of his newest, top of the line riverboat if Chase will marry his stepdaughter, Ann. Chase is stunned, confused and very tempted to accept. He agrees to meet Ann and discovers that she is obviously pregnant. She begs Chase not to agree to her stepfather's plan and Chase agrees. But later he has a change of heart and so Ann and Chase marry (much to Ann's displeasure).
Ann has been betrayed by men before (including her stepfather and his malevolent son), but had thought that Chase was different. Now married to him, she is reluctant to trust him or confide in him. Given the circumstances, Chase cannot blame her, but feels deep down that he made the right decision for both of them. He is determined to take care of Ann and raise her child as his own (he himself was adopted and raised in a large and loving family). He feels that he cannot yet ask Ann about her pregnancy or who the father is, and on a certain level he feels that it is irrelevant. She's his wife and the child she is carrying will be his. Rather than stay in St Louis under her hated stepfather's roof, she stows away on his boat on a trip upriver. Chase initially intends to send her back to St Louis ASAP, but as the trip progresses, they begin to open up to one another and a tender friendship begins to grow between them.
But on the trip, Chase notices some suspicious behavior on the part of some of his crew and ultimately discovers that someone is using his boat to run guns to the Indians. And while Chase struggles to find out who is responsible, he finds himself implicated and tangled in a web he could not foresee. But Ann has come to know (and love) Chase and staunchly defends her husband. Will Chase and Ann be able to prove Chase's innocence (and who is really behind it all)? Can they live happily ever after once Ann's secrets are revealed? You'll hope so!
I do have a few very minor criticisms. Chase is not the sharpest guy around, but in a way, this is realistic as he was raised on the frontier without a formal education (though he works hard to read and educate himself). And the reader will likely figure out who is the father of Ann's child fairly early on, but it takes Chase almost the entire book (though in fairness, as I mentioned, I don't think it really mattered to him). And it may take some time to warm up to Ann in the beginning, though one can certainly sympathize with her plight. I had no such problem with Chase. He's sweet, kind and earnest, if a bit naive, and I really liked him a lot. An enjoyable read and highly recommended.