Two con artists team up in 1880s California for the score of a lifetime—but end up fighting for their lives instead In a stagecoach en route to San Francisco, Grace Rousselot is posing as a nun to drum up “donations” from fellow travelers. Across from her, Reuben Jones is faking blindness to prey on unsuspecting travelers. Both grifters are surprised to learn that they have competition, and even more surprised when their stagecoach is ambushed and robbed, leaving them both flat broke. Not keen to discuss the robbery with the police, Reuben and Grace decide to work together to recoup some of their losses. Soon enough, what starts out as a practical partnership evolves into something more. And with the Chinese mafia hot on their heels, neither is sure just how far they can trust a man—or a woman—with a crooked heart.
Crooked hearts indeed. Both the hero and heroine of this fast-paced romp through California in the 1880s are so adept at lying and scheming that the narrative is more than half over before they--or the reader--know each other's true stories or real names. But Grace Russell and Reuben Jones are a pair of very likable rogues--good-hearted and good-humored 20-somethings whose disadvantaged pasts have virtually compelled them to resort to a succession of cons to survive life on the American frontier. When they meet on a San Francisco-bound stagecoach--she disguised as a nun soliciting money for African orphans and he posing as a wealthy blind scholar--sparks fly but are quickly dampened as each recognizes in the other a kindred spirit perpetually on the make. Nonetheless, they join forces to defraud a mysterious Chinatown crimelord, who, being neither trustworthy nor nice, makes their lives complicated, dangerous and increasingly intertwined. The ensuing story line is so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to follow, but most readers will be willing to muddle through, because the characters themselves truly are engaging and refreshingly unstereotypical. Grace is independent and sexually liberated but never brassy, while Reuben struggles valiantly to project the bravura of a Wild West hero but readily admits to a deep fear of knives and a decidedly unmacho passion for wine collecting. Their sexual encounters are sweetly erotic, and their hopes, fears and desires ring true.