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Everybody in McDade thought of Dellie O’Barr as “the good little sister.” Dellie has always done what her father and brother wanted on the family farm; she even married the suitor her older sister stood up – an earnest man with a college education and a fine house in town. Dellie has always done the proper thing.

Always that is, until now. Out of the blue, she finds herself falling for a stranger, a man stirring up the countryside with his fiery Populist speeches. Clearly, no good can come of it – he’s an out-and-out rabble-rouser, a man set on disturbing the turn-of-the-century status quo on farms all over Central Texas. And he’s married.

And then, for the love of this man, Dellie O’Barr tosses aside her own status – a privileged life and perfect reputation – and opens herself to whispers of adultery and disloyalty. Not only that, she’s suspected of burning down a local store hostile to her lover and his Populist followers. And when he flees town, she leaves her rich husband to chase after him.

As much about married love as forbidden love, The Passion of Dellie O’Barr is the story of a singular woman’s life and of the lives of the two men she chooses as lovers. One, Andrew Ashland, is a dynamic political crusader. The other, Daniel O’Barr, is the man she leaves behind – the man who waits for her to come back home and stand by her when she returns to the scandalized town of McDade. 

Cindy Bonner’s third novel is set in Texas at the end of the nineteenth century. It is an exciting tale of passion and human frailty. Bonner breathes life into a romantic drama of complex, believable men and women set against the backdrop of Texas history she know so well. 

Willie Betts opened the door. He looked at me as if I were a ghost. I was surely a stranger to him. I doubted he would remember me from the Veterans’ Reunion. He wore an ink-stained printer’s apron. Even the shirt underneath was smudged with black, though he wore sleeve protectors to his elbows.

            “Yes?” he said.

            “Is this the office of the Plaindealer?” I asked. My voice sounded tinny and childish.

            “It is.”

            Suddenly, the door opened up wider and Andy Ashland was standing there, to the rear and left of Mr. Betts. When Andy saw me, he let out a friendly laugh. “Well. Look who’s here. I thought that sounded like you.” He took my arm and pulled me inside. Mr. Betts shut the door behind me. 

            It startled me to have Andy’s hand on my arm. I may have jumped slightly. At any rate, he let go. I stood there, foolishly shifting, glancing around at the layout tables, the press, the stack of clean newspapers on top of a battered desk. The air smelled close, and sharply of ink, even with the three open windows.

            “I came to place an advertisement,” I said.

            “A what?” Mr. Betts said.

            I looked at Andy. He was smiling. “You want to contribute something to the paper?”

            “Yes. A social item. We need to – or rather, Professor Mauney at the academy is trying to find lodging for the thirty teachers coming for the Summer Normal School that begins the twenty-fourth of June.” I was relieved to have the whole thing out. Andy kept smiling at me as if I hadn’t spoken.

            “What?” Mr. Betts said, seeming confused.

            I looked at both of them in turn. “Can’t I put that in your paper?”

            “A social item?” Mr. Betts didn’t act as if he believed me.

            “Why sure,” Andy said. “Why not. If we can print the stud fees for Early Horner’s bull, we can print this.”

            Andy moved to the desk, picked up a pen, and dipped it into an open ink jar. He wrote down everything I had said, and I couldn’t help but notice he spelled all the words correctly. His penmanship was bold and flourishing, almost feminine. His straw hat lay in front of me beside the stack of newspapers on the desk. I had the nearly irresistible urge to reach with my finger and touch the tiny feather stuck down in the tan hatband encircling the crown.

            “Who should they contact” he said, and I jumped again, startled. He gave me another grin, this one quieter.

            “The academy.” 

            He wrote down “contact school” and sharply underlined each word. Then he raised up and seemed about to say something else. His eyes were gentle, smiling, interested, if only at the oddity of me being there.

            Just at that moment, the door burst open. It flew against the wall so hard, the knob chipped off some plaster. And Mr. Bassist stood there on the landing, red in the face and clutching a wad of newsprint in his large hand. I could hear his breath.

            “Ashland! You trying to start a war with me?” He was so angry he couldn’t even say the first word of his sentences. His German accent had flooded into his pronunciations. He shook his thick first finger. “Will never win. Hear me? Never! Never!”

            He threw the wad of newsprint down at his feet and stepped on it, grinding the sole of his black, square-toed walking shoes into the paper. He glared, huffed loudly, then went back downstairs. The door at the bottom slammed hard.

            The office was silent, so silent the sounds from the Masonic Celebration outside on the square came ringing in through the open windows. Then both of them laughed out at the same time. And they kept at it for some little while, until Andy flopped down in the rolling desk chair and wiped at his eyes.

            Mr. Betts got hold of himself then, too, and said, “I thought for a minute there, he might spontaneously combust right before our eyes.”

            “Or pull out a pistol,” Andy said,

            “What did you do to him?” I said and both of them looked at me as if they just remembered my presence.

            Mr. Betts stuffed his handkerchief down in his vest pocket and jerked up a paper from the neat stack on the desk. He stuck it in my hands. “Bottom of the page.”

            I had never before held a copy of the Plaindealer. Down at the bottom of the page was an article about Mr. Bassist, how he had refused to sell Andy a bottle of horse expectorant. It was also in there about the gross difference in Bassist’s cash and credit prices, and that the interest he charged amounted to over 60 percent. The headline read A WARNING TO HONEST FARMERS and there was some Scripture from the Book of Nehemiah: “Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.”

            I lifted my face from the paper and saw Andy watching me read. I was suddenly, inexplicably afraid for him. “Why did you write this? Are you trying to stir up trouble?”

            “When it needs stirring up,” Andy answered. “Don’t you think folks oughta know the way Louis Bassist conducts his business? So maybe they won’t start trading with him in the first place?”

            To look at him, no one would ever suspect he had a rebellious spirit, that he could write a fine hand and compose articles for a newspaper complete with Bible verse. He looked like such a plain man, an everyday man. I took a deep breath. I couldn’t believe that someone would deliberately pick a fight with Mr. Bassist. He owned most of the downtown district, and he furnished about three hundred families in the area. And I had never – until Andy Ashland – heard an unkind word spoken against him. I reached for the slip of paper where Andy had written my advertisement.

            “Perhaps you shouldn’t print this,” I said.

            He grabbed my hand. “We want to.”

            I drew away from his grasp, and held my hand to my chest, thinking I should have never come up here. It was foolish of me and impulsive; brash. I felt I had stepped into something that had nothing whatever to do with me. I moved backwards toward the door.

"Bonner spins her yarn out of excellent cultural research, and her gift as a remarkable storyteller." -- The Indianapolis News

"Bonner does more than hold us rapt with her storytelling skills; she also reveals the transforming power of love." -- Booklist