High Country Bride
If High Country Bride were a mainstream novel, some of its story elements would be laughed off the page. We have an only-in-a-romance will, wild west prostitutes who stay beautiful and never come down with STD’s, and a heroine who is supposed to have gone to good schools, but comes off as a clueless simp. I’m not opposed to romance novel clichés at all if they are judiciously used, but this one was so chock full of them, I was tempted to make a list and check them off. It’s smoothly written, but unlike Western romances by Lorraine Heath, and Maggie Osborne, this one never goes into much depth, but instead dances all over the surface.
Angus McKettrick owns a large ranch. He has three sons, none of whom are interested in stopping their carousing long enough to marry and give him some grandchildren. So he changes his will to say that the son who gives him the first grandchild gets the lion’s share of the ranch. Then he calls in the boys and tells them about his new will. Angus wants to see those grandchildren before he dies.
Rafe McKettrick is the oldest son. He doesn’t really want to marry, but since he loves the land, and the town is pretty short of eligible women he does the Western thing – orders himself a mail-order bride.
Enter Emmeline Harding. She is an orphan raised by her aunt (madame) Becky, in a boarding (bawdy) house in Kansas City. Emmeline has mostly been away at school, she’s a virgin, but she isn’t totally sheltered. One day, she comes to the boarding/bawdy house, and for no good reason, dresses up in some fancy clothing and begins to talk to one of the gentlemen callers, a man named Holt. Emmaline proceeds to get drunk and then she wakes up (alone) in a strange bed. Did anything happen?
Well, Emmaline goes to the ranch to be Rafe’s wife. Once there, her behavior alternates between haughty and flirtatious. She and Rafe fight, then they bill and coo, finally they make love, and she falls in love with him. All is going well until someone comes to town.
I’ll give you one guess who that someone is.
Yep, it’s Holt. He has a Big Secret and not just the obvious one, but to say more would spoil it. Emmaline is in an agony of apprehension. Should she tell Rafe about her background? Does Rafe love her enough? Does she really love Rafe, or just his skill at lovemaking? And why did Aunt Becky come here too? Does she plan on opening another “boarding house?” Does she have some connection to Holt? What about Rafe’s two brothers? And the nun who came in on the stage? And the widow who is squatting on McKettrick land? And what about Angus’s relationship with the housekeeper?
High Country Bride is chock-fulla-plot. Lots and lots of stuff happens, and lots and lots of characters are introduced. Folks, we have us a series in the making, one that is smooth, slick, professional – and passionless.
Rafe is handsome, taciturn, and one dimensional. Emmaline is feisty, silly, and ditto. Holt has secrets, Aunt Becky has secrets, Angus has secrets, and I’ll bet as the saga continues, eventually everyone in the story will have secrets. I’m well known for not being able to guess plot twists, but the ones in this book were as obvious as could be.
High Country Bride is a Wallpaper Western which could have been moved to almost anywhere or anytime. Just change a few details of scenery and costume and this could be a Regency historical, or even a contemporary soap opera.
Western romances by and large aren’t as popular as European Historicals, and part of that has to do with a perceived lack of quality. High Country Bride does nothing to change that perception. I like Westerns, but I like them with more substance. Lucky for me there is a brand new Maggie Osborne title in my to-be-read pile that’s calling my name.