Dell / January 1, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital
Can secrets and second choices ever lead to love?
After three months in a mail-order marriage, Hannah Wentworth McMurtry is a widow—pregnant, alone, and near death in the Wyoming wilderness. Though she is saved by a man with a face cut from stone, she still grieves the husband who died on their journey west. Hannah needs a husband, but does she dare marry another stranger?
Flint Creed has also lost someone he loved—when the woman he hoped to marry chose his younger brother instead. Now he must find a ranch wife of his own. But every female in the remote Wyoming Territory is too old, too young, or already married . . . until he discovers Hannah on the prairie. Flint doesn’t pretend to love her, but he doesn’t tell her he loves another woman, either. Hannah doesn’t pretend to love him, but she doesn’t tell him about the child she carries. Though danger surrounds them on the Wyoming frontier, the greatest threats of all are the secrets within—revelations that could destroy the new life Hannah and Flint have begun to cherish.
I am a girl who has a hard time saying no to a historical western romance because some of my favorite themes fit so naturally into the time period. I love characters looking for a second chance or in need of redemption, and I tend to enjoy heroines with some backbone. Most western heroines pretty much have to have backbone or else the frontier would chew them up and spit them out within the first 20 pages of the story. Given my penchant for westerns, it’s a little unbelievable I’ve never read a Joan Johnston story before, and Wyoming Bride was a very interesting read for me on some very important levels. Most notably? She juggles a lot of moods and tones in this story. It is one part farcical and about six parts gritty.
Most traditional mail-order bride stories find the heroine married to the hero right out of the gate, and the bulk of the book is spent on the newlyweds falling in love. Johnston takes a different tack with her heroine, Hannah Wentworth, who is already married in the opening chapter —to a guy who isn’t the hero. She’s not in love with her husband and only married him to get her and her two sisters out of an odious Chicago orphanage. This is a practical solution, not a love match, and her wedding night doesn’t exactly set the world on fire. She’s seventeen, still reeling from the Great Fire of Chicago decimating the family fortune, and to see how her life has turned out was not at all what she had planned.
“No one had forced her to marry Mr. McMurtry. She’d volunteered to do it. She had to grow up. She had to put away childish hopes and dreams. This was her life, like it or not.”
The grittiness of the story enters in very early on, with tragedy striking as the newlyweds and Hannah’s two sisters are traveling to Cheyenne. Hannah is eventually found, barely conscious, alone and on foot, by the hero, Flint Creed. Women are scarce in his part of Wyoming, and his younger brother is now engaged to the girl that Flint fancies. Since Flint and Ransom live and work together on the ranch? That means Emaline will be living with them as well. Flint figures the surest way to stop coveting his brother’s soon-to-be-wife is to get married himself, and now like manna from heaven, Hannah—newly widowed—has fallen into his lap. You guessed it, this is where the farcical part of the story enters in, although later on it turns more serious when Hannah realizes that Husband #2 is keeping a big ol’ secret from her.
“She met his troubled gaze, and said, ‘So I’m keeping my distance from you.’
That was plain speaking. Flint had no idea how to reply.
She asked, ‘Is there anything else? If not, I’m tired and I want to go to bed.’
‘How long is this shut-out going to continue?’ She glared at him, ‘How long do you plan on being in love with another woman?’”
Have I mentioned how much I like historical western heroines with gumption?
The author includes two romances for the price of one, by featuring a healthy helping of Ransom and Emaline. They may be engaged, but turns out they have a lot to learn about each other, and the road to the altar is a bumpy one. The conflict is further rounded out by the presence of a nefarious villain determined to drive the Creed brothers off their land.
Books that are part of not just one, but two series, can be a tricky business for the uninitiated reader to navigate, but Johnston does a really wonderful job on that front. I never felt lost, confused, or like I was being manipulated by past couples or future protagonists. It’s a historical western that somehow manages to straddle the line between cozy and gritty. I prefer gritty, but also like cozy. To have both of those elements in the same book scratched two very different itches for me as a reader.
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.