Desert Isle Keeper
Duncan’s Bride is a typical Linda Howard book, in that it features as its hero Reese Duncan – a big, tough, alpha-double-plus male who is strong, stubborn, handsome as sin, and oversexed to the max. Did I like him? Yeah, I guess so. Did I want to drop kick his butt all over his ranch? Yes I did – several times during the course of the book. Well then, why is this a Desert Island Keeper for me? There are a couple of reasons.
First, Linda Howard took an old plot, the mail-order bride, and made it contemporary and interesting. Second, and most important, Madelyn Patterson Duncan was a heroine I could cheer for. She is the main reason this book is one I can read over again with great pleasure.
Reese Duncan lives in Montana on a ranch that was developed by his grandparents. He had been married before to a woman who hated the ranch and the lifestyle. When they were divorced, she won a large cash settlement and half the land. Reese is bitter over her betrayal and projects that bitterness toward all women. Still, he wants children to inherit the land, and, being a Linda Howard hero, he’s just gotta have sex or he’ll explode. Reese places an ad for a wife in a newspaper and gets three responses. Two of them don’t pan out, but Madelyn Patterson comes to the ranch for a look-see and loves it (and Reese too). She is a city girl just like Reese’s first wife, but she’s the only one willing to live there. Reese draws up a pre-nuptial agreement, Madeline signs it, and they are married.
Maddie soon proves that she is just as at home on the ranch as Reese is. She is a good cook, a hard worker, and a wonderful lover. She also is very good at handling her husband. When Reese gets in one of his moods, she simply tells him that she is not his first wife and won’t pay for her sins. When Reese is in danger of losing the ranch, Maddie uses her trust fund to pay off the mortgage. Is Reese grateful? Of course not! He is nasty and cruel, accusing Maddie of wanting to divorce him and get her hands on his property. Does she wilt, does she lie down, does she give in and slink around like a pathetic shadow like Sarah does in Sarah’s Child? No, she does not! She gets good and mad and moves out. When Reese comes blustering up to her, she doesn’t back down one inch, and just asks him to give her one good reason why she should stay with him. Being the hard-head that he is, it does take Reese a while to figure out what Maddie wants, but he is very satisfyingly contrite once the light comes on.
Duncan’s Bride is just about my favorite of Linda Howard’s novels. It has all of her strengths – an excellent story, wonderful characters, and pulse-pounding love scenes. What it does not have is a weak, wimpy, and whining heroine. After having read quite a few of Ms. Howard’s books, I find that the books with weak heroines, Sarah’s Child and All That Glitters, are the ones where I find myself disliking both of the characters. In Ms. Howard’s books that have strong female characters, Duncan’s Bride and Mackenzie’s Mountain, the heroine’s strength-of-will matches the hero’s overbearing machismo, and I find myself very favorably disposed to them both.