TALL, DARK AND WESTERN SYNOPSIS
By Kay LeGrand
On a scorching August afternoon, Bethany Griffith staggers into the Crowe County, Wyoming, Sheriffs office. Tired and unhappy, certain Wyoming is the back of nowhere and someplace she wishes shed never seen, she tells a disjointed tale of strange activity at a ghost town called Cameo, the theft of her van, her purse and all her money, and her abduction and imprisonment by a deputy.
Sheriff Nathan Ballard listens, but when he hears the culprit is Ben Haselden he knows it cant be true. Ben was murdered eight months earlier at Cameo. Quick to order a search for the real kidnapper, Nathan is just as quick to forbid Bethany to return there. Shes a city girl, after all. One of those soft, pink creatures who cant possibly handle what the wilds of Wyoming have to offer. And hes prepared to do whatever it takes, including making himself an inescapable part of her life, to make sure she stays safe while he gets to the bottom of whats really happened.
But Bethany is just as determined to return to Cameo and finish her search. Its the only way she can honor a promise made to her dying mother that shell retrieve a treasured heirloom cameo stolen by her neer-do-well father. A cameo Bethany has every reason to believe is hidden at his favorite hideout. The ghost town.
Still, penniless and stranded, she has no choice but to agree when Nathan declares she will see the town doctor whether she wants to or not. And then she will stay with his sister Ginny until she can make some phone calls and regain the ability to care for herself.
Ginny proves an excellent hostess, and a valuable source of information. The very first thing Bethany learns from her, after a good nights sleep, is that nothing much ever happens in Broadwater. Nothing much, that is, until Bethany showed up on Nathans doorstep, bringing to life the specter of the long-dead Deputy Haselden, whom Bethany realizes meant far more to Ginyy than Ginny seems to want to admit.
And then Ginny reveals Nathan is married.
When Nathan arrives with news that her van has been located and he has a suspect in custody, Bethany realizes shes highly attracted to him. And that makes her feel guilty, because she has no intention of becoming involved with a married man.
Unfortunately, a trip to town for a line-up in which she cant identify her kidnapper because Nathan has obviously arrested the wrong man ends in a passionate kiss in a jailhouse broom closet.
After their discovery in that compromising position by a nosy janitor, Bethanys guilt intensifies. Shes acted like a fool. Shes surely inviting divine retribution by having such feelings for a married man, and Wyoming isnt for her, anyway. She should leave, should go home. And she would, except that a call to her bank has revealed her accounts have been drained of every cent. Shes truly stranded until she can contact her condescending and cold brother, who at the moment is on vacation abroad.
During a drive to town, Ginny notices Bethanys odd, stressed behavior. Prodding, she convinces Bethany to reveal everything, including her dire belief that shes about to go to hell for desiring a married man.
Ginny laughs at first. But in the process of revealing that Nathans divorced, not married, she also reveals that she was engaged to marry the murdered Deputy Haselden. The wedding had been only four days away, and Ginny hasnt recovered from the twin shocks of his death, and of receiving his wedding gift shortly afterward.
Bethanys horrified that she could have even inadvertently recalled such suffering, but before she can make more than the barest of apologies, she sees her kidnapper in the street. Excited, she chases him into a supermarket, only to lose him in the crowd.
Once again, Nathan is skeptical of her accusation. Already having arrested and had to release one man, hes not eager to repeat the mistake. Having decided Bethanys a loose cannon with a penchant for impulsive behavior thats likely to land her in serious trouble, he continues to keep a close watch over her. But no one can stay on duty forever.
Bethany dislikes Wyoming. She thinks Nathan is a hick Sheriff, and shes furious that he isnt moving fast enough, or placing enough importance on her case. And shes growing more and more certain his closely guarded emotions cover a terrible secret.
All in all, its in her best interest to stay away from him. She should just solve the mystery herself, then get out of town for good.
And she isnt about to let anyone, not even the law, stand in her way.
Taking advantage of his distraction during a card game with his sister, Bethany tries to put her do-it-yourself plan into action. But its a badly bungled escape. She slips out of the house easily enough, only to make the horrifying discovery that the keys shes "borrowed" are not for Ginnys car, as shed thought, but for Nathans patrol car. To make matters worse, shes just knocked over a garbage can and awakened an entire neighborhood of dogs.
Attracted by the ruckus, Nathan comes to the door and nearly catches her. Her only hope is to hide, but Ginnys car is locked, leaving only the patrol car. And thats when Bethanys impulsive side, the one that always gets her in over her head, kicks in. Aware that shes about to commit a crime, yet unable to resist trying the key just to see if it really will work, she lets the impulsive side convince her she can borrow the car for a quick trip to Cameo, and return it long before Nathans finished with his card game.
It all seems so simple. But when she reaches the ghost town, she realizes shes been foolish. Its dark, its lonely, and shes frightened. She needs to go back. Immediately. Before she gets herself any deeper into trouble.
Which she immediately does, by backing the car into a stone wall.
The damage is significant. But though Nathan is irate, though he lectures and orders her to her room to sleep off her temporary insanity, he seems almost amused. And he doesnt mention filing charges, an omission that might be explained by an overheard conversation in which Ginny voices the opinion that hes not charging Bethany because hes in love with her.
Of course, that isnt the case. Cant be the case. As becomes clear the next morning, when he resumes his lecture and the truth comes out. Bethanys in the process of explaining that she lost her head, that this happens to her sometime and its not an easy thing to control, when he suddenly reveals he hasnt arrested her or charged her because she reminds him too much of his daughter, who died at age four. Based on what little he will say, Bethany believes there was something mysterious, possibly even sinister, about the little girls death.
Confused, unsure if Nathan may have played a part in that death, Bethany again tells herself to forget about him. But how can she, when shes forced to be near him every day? When shes forced to see him, and think about him, and hear the sound of his voice, because she still hasnt caught up with her elusive brother?
She can only hope some clue will turn up soon, so the mystery of her kidnapping can be solved.
When the clue does turn up, sooner rather than later, its the kidnapper himself. Spotting him entering a local saloon, Bethany chases him inside, only to have a brawl erupt around her. The bartender summons Nathan and the kidnapper escapes through the back door. But Bethany isnt so lucky. Exasperated but charmed by the crazy woman with whom hes found himself hopelessly entangled, Nathan arrests her and hauls her off to jail in handcuffs, hoping the shock will convince her to behave, where pleas and orders and even threats have not.
Instead, locked up on a Saturday night in a small county jail with three hookers, Bethany learns a lot about the Sheriff, and a lot about Crowe County, Wyoming.
Everyone here knows everyones business. Nothing ever stays secret for very long. And thanks to the gossipy janitor who discovered them together in the broom closet, words spread in record time that she and Nathan are an "item". Half the county has them almost to the altar already. And why not, when Nathan is considered the countys number-one catch?
The conversation starts out well enough but before long, as they always seem do whenever Bethany is involved, things go horribly wrong. A near-brawl breaks out in the jail when the hookers decide the Sheriff has arrested her when she was only trying to defend herself from the unwanted advances of the bars patrons.
Fighting hard to contain laughter at the spectacle, Nathan declares Bethany a hell-cat, and too upsetting to the other prisoners. Figuring shes learned her lesson, he releases her into his custody and takes her back to his sisters house. Hed keep her in handcuffs if he had his way. But Ginny refuses to hear of it, and matters reach an uneasy impasse.
Bethany agrees to let Nathan work on her case in his own way. As long as he doesnt take too long. Knowing she has no money and cant travel far even though hes returned her van to her, and certain the night in jail has made the desired impression, Nathan relaxes his guard a little and sets out to solve the case.
But now that the story of her quest and her difficulties is all over town thanks to the talkative hookers, Bethany begins to hear tales from the locals. Including the story of a long-dead boy who once found her fathers hideout at the ghost town and actually brought some of his hidden and mostly worthless "treasures" back to town. But one of the items was something special, and the boy eventually gave it to his girlfriend as a gift. Spirits buoyed though she cant learn the identity of the girlfriend, Bethany becomes impatient again with the Sheriffs lack of progress and finds another opportunity to slip away to the ghost town.
This time, investigating flashes of weird and oddly-familiar light among the ruins, she nearly runs headlong into the kidnapper. But though he and another man chase her, shoot at her, and nearly capture her, she manages to get away. Always suspicious when she suddenly turns too agreeable, Nathan has followed her. Turning up in the nick of time, he takes her to his home this time, certain he can keep her under control there.
Inevitably, given the close quarters and their intense attraction for each other, Bethany winds up in his bed. And just as inevitably, he proves himself an enormously adept and talented lover.
Unfortunately, its an enchantment that doesnt last. In the harsh light of morning, news arrives that the kidnapper has turned himself in, saying hes got a partner whos gone crazy. Whos disturbed, and dangerous. He wont reveal exactly whats been going on at the ghost town, but he claims he kidnapped Bethany for her own protection after she almost revealed herself to the lunatic. And now that Bethanys proved herself determined to stir up trouble, the lunatic has threatened to kill both of them. Along with anyone who gets in his way.
In response, Nathan lays down a few ground rules for Bethany. And she replies with a fervent promise that even though shes certain, based on letters her father wrote to her mother, that the cameo is indeed hidden at the ghost town, she wont go back there again alone, or at night.
Unconvinced, Nathan warns her that shes in danger, thanks in large part to her own mule-headed persistence and shenanigans. He means to keep her alive, he declares, as long as shes in his county. No matter what it takes.
Nathans plan is to release the kidnapper. Hell keep him under surveillance, until he rejoins his lunatic partner. Then hell arrest them both. And in the meantime, hell see to it that Bethanys never alone. Needing to go about his other official business, hell assign a female deputy to guard her whenever he cant be there himself.
From the deputy, Bethany learns more about the Sheriffs past. And its not encouraging. His daughters death led to a nasty divorce, complete with brutal taunts and accusations from his wife. He changed, into a hard and unforgiving man whos rebuffed all offers of concern, or friendship, or even simple human companionship. Until Bethany.
It was only after she came along, the deputy insists, that the old Nathan, the real Nathan, began to return.
And the daughters death? How did that happen?
The deputy cant, or maybe wont. explain.
Now more certain than ever that Nathan played some part in his daughters death, Bethany doubts she can ever trust him again.
And then his plan to capture the kidnapper and the lunatic, which had seemed so simple and so foolproof, goes awry. An innocent woman is killed, a woman who drives a van that looks remarkably like Bethanys. Then information arrives via official channels about the lunatic partner. Hes an accomplished criminal with a long history of mental problems. Hearing this, Nathan launches a manhunt, and puts every available officer on the case.
Within days, the kidnapper makes another appearance. This time, hes dead, hanged from a light fixture outside the courthouse where hes sure to be found, all the evidence pointing to murder. And Nathans sure he knows who did it.
The lunatic partner.
Convinced its only a matter of time before the killer comes after her, Bethany is ready to run. Shes finally contacted her brother, and in a typically-controlling move, hes sent her orders and just enough money to make the trip home.
But Nathan thinks its better to stay, and see it through. Believing running would do nothing to keep her safe since the lunatic would surely follow her, he convinces her to stay, and promises to redouble his efforts to protect her.
Just like before, though, he cant be everywhere at once. And with manpower spread so thin, neither can his deputies. Eventually, hes forced to leave her alone when pressing business arises and wont wait. And even though its just for a short time, no more than fifteen minutes, the lunatic has set up the situation. So he can use it to lure Bethany to a remote place by pretending to be a deputy acting on the Sheriffs instructions. Bragging about misdeeds that include the murders of both Deputy Ben Haselden and the kidnapper, he gloats that now its Bethanys turn.
Trapped, she prays for a miracle. And has one, when Nathan, following an uneasy instinct that wouldnt let him rest, appears in the nick of time. At first, the lunatics capture appears imminent. But when he turns his gun on Nathan, Nathan has no choice but to shoot him dead.
Disturbed, determined to sort out her feelings for Nathan once and for all, Bethany retreats to the safe haven of Ginnys house. And accidentally finds her cameo, hidden inside a partially-wrapped wedding gift thats been shoved to the back of a closet shelf and forgotten.
At last the pieces of the puzzle tumble into place. Murdered Deputy Haselden was the boy whod long ago retrieved some of her fathers loot. Ginny was the girlfriend for whom a piece of the treasure became a wedding gift. And Nathans betrayal is staggering.
Its obvious hes known the cameos whereabouts all along. And has chosen to keep the location secret.
Nathan denies knowing what was inside the package. Saying his grief-stricken sister never showed the contents to anyone, he attempts to pacify Bethany by revealing what hes learned about the kidnapper and his partner. They were involved in a lucrative identity theft and forging scheme involving high-speed copy machines mounted in a series of stolen vans, including hers. Like Bethany, Deputy Haselden had been suspicious. Hed seen the flickering greenish-white lights among the ruins. Hed thought they looked oddly familiar, and just as Bethany had, hed developed a compulsion to find the answer. A compulsion that got him killed.
Though Bethany now understands the reasons for the Sheriffs caution and his refusal to jump in head-first and as quickly as shed demanded, she isnt completely satisfied. She still needs to know the truth about his daughter. And she needs to hear it from him.
Reluctantly, Nathan agrees. His daughters death was the result of leukemia, not of any misdeed, And the loss left him so damaged that hed been unable to love, to allow himself to feel emotion or express tenderness. Hed been trapped, he claims, inside a shell of bitterness that lasted right up until the night Bethany stole his car and jolted him out of his preoccupation with his own misery.
He hadnt had the heart to arrest her that night, he explains, much less the desire. Because shed saved him from himself. Then, in a move as impulsive as any Bethany has ever made, he sweeps her into his arms and admits he loves her. He asks her to marry him.
Bethany isnt surprised by her own eager acceptance. After all, she realizes, shes loved him almost from the beginning. And she can think of nothing better than to spend the rest of her life there, with this man who carries the scent of prairie wind on his skin and the heart of Wyoming in his enormous, brandy-brown eyes.