His Secondhand Wife
In the Harlequin Historical line, Cheryl St. John is an auto-buy for me. I have read all of her books and have enjoyed them very much. She is one of the best ever at depicting wounded heroes (and heroines) and His Secondhand Wife shows just how good she can be.
Noah Cutter seldom sets foot outside his prosperous ranch in Copper Creek. Badly scarred when a strand of barbed wire cut him to ribbons at the age of thirteen, he doesn’t come into town at all. After the accident, his stepmother shunned him and his father withdrew out of guilt for causing the accident. Only his half-brother Levi treated him just the same as before. But unlike the serious hardworking Noah, Levi was a foot-loose womanizer.
One day, Noah gets a telegram telling of Levi’s death at the hands of an angry husband. Levi also leaves a widow, Katherine, who was unaware of her husband’s infidelity. Noah visits Katherine and finds her pregnant and living with her mother, who is of the “you made your bed, now lie in it” school. Noah sees that she would have a terrible life with her mother, so he offers Katherine a home on the Cutter ranch and she accepts.
Most of the book concerns how Noah falls in love with Katherine and slowly comes back into the larger community. Noah’s step-mother, Estelle, a fixture of the town’s society, has long hated him and lets everyone know what a monster she thinks he is. Noah does not help matters since he won’t come to town, and refuses to meet anyone other than the ranch hands. He considers himself too hideous for even a paid whore to look at (Noah is a virgin) and he hides his scarred face behind a beard, long hair, and a hat. Katherine does not think him a monster at all, and after one look, she ignores his scars. Her cheerful presence at first disconcerts him, then he finds he can’t live without her.
One of the best things in the book is how it depicts Estelle Cutter. It would have been so easy to show her as nothing but an evil witch, and I did despise her for her treatment of Noah. But she has some (just some) legitimate feelings and she does love her grandchild. Estelle never becomes sympathetic, but she is not a cardboard villain.
I don’t know when I’ve been so touched by a wounded hero as I was when reading this book. The blurb on the cover compares St. John’s writing to Lavyrle Spencer’s, but His Secondhand Wife reminded me more of Lorraine Heath’s westerns Sweet Lullaby and Texas Destiny (also featuring a scarred hero), two of the most tear inducing books I have ever read. But Cheryl St. John has her own voice, and it’s one I love dearly.