Marriage at the Circle M
Marriage at the Circle M sounded like a sweet romance about two nice people. In actuality, it’s a sweet romance about two annoying people. As I spent most of the book wanting to bang their heads together, this wasn’t quite the quick, fun read I had hoped for.
Grace Lundquist is the sweetheart of her little town in the Canadian Rockies. She’s always ready to help out a neighbor, which leaves her little time for herself. Since she lives alone and has bills to pay, she thinks this situation suits her just fine. Besides, she tired marriage once, and that was a spectacular failure; it changed her physically and emotionally, and she’s pretty sure she can’t ever do it again.
Mike Gardner dated Grace while she was still in high school. But since he was afraid she would abandon him, he beat her to the punch, joining the rodeo circuit and leaving without a goodbye. Years have passed, though, and now he’s ready to settle down and start a family. He owns a ranch with his friend Connor (hero of Hired by the Cowboy) and is building a home of his own. Some months back, Grace had a little too much to drink and admitted her attraction to him, so he’s hoping to pick up where he left off.
Unfortunately, every time Mike tries to talk to Grace the conversation goes badly. He is concerned about her welfare, and she sees it as meddling. In his worry, he can’t help snapping at her. When Connor’s wife is confined to bed rest because of pre-term labor, Grace takes over some of her book-keeping duties at the ranch, which throws her into closer proximity to Mike. While both of them are practically brimming with sexual tension, their conversations continue to be awkward.
Then, when Grace is at an emotionally vulnerable point, she ends up sleeping with Mike. But all it does is remind her that she can never be with him. She finally screws up her courage and tells him why they can’t be together. Like all the other conversations they’ve had, this goes badly. They spend the rest of the book failing to communicate with each other, until they finally talk and decide to get married. There’s a bit more to it than that, but not much.
Grace and Mike are meant to be flawed but lovable characters. The problem is that they are defined by their problems. Mike was an unloved foster child…Grace had a bad first marriage. Granted, this is a short book, but at the end I felt that I should know something of their personalities or quirks beyond their troubled pasts. They appear to have no hobbies or personal tastes. I wasn’t even sure whether Grace had finished college or what her career interest had been.
By default, Grace and Mike are defined by their annoying conversations. Because they are both annoying, I had trouble picking sides. Mike jumps all over Grace for stupid stuff, shouting at her for looking tired and coming to work when she has a cold. He’s supposed to be protective, but he comes across as snappish and overbearing. So you’d think one would sympathize with Grace. But Grace is really no better. She has a secret she guards closely – the real reason she won’t marry Mike, or anyone else. Though it’s a secret from the reader as well, it’s not hard to guess, and I kept wishing she’d just shout it in Mike’s direction and get it over with. Instead, she waits forever to tell him, and her fears turn out to be somewhat justified when he reacts to her news by walking out without a word.
At the end of the book, they appear to work it all out and love each other. But since they’d had maybe one or two good conversation and a dozen bad ones, I wasn’t too confident about their marital chances. One can only hope that the Circle M continues to prosper, so the couple will be able to pay for the inevitable marriage counseling bills. Happily ever after? I just wasn’t sure.