It can be hard to be original when writing a western. At times it really seems as if there are only so many stories, all of which have been told before. One Wish falls squarely in the middle of the western romance pack; it’s neither completely trite nor really innovative. The characters are intriguing, but their actions aren’t always plausible. A disappointing ending completes the mediocrity.
Charity Barnham and Luke Shardlow couldn’t come from more different circumstances. Luke comes from one of the poorest families in town, and he has an abusive alcoholic father. Charity’s father owns one of the largest ranches in the area, and she is pampered and loved. Luke Shardlow saves Charity Barnham’s life when they are just kids, and she offers to grant him one wish in return. He tells her he’ll save his wish for another day, but the years go by and Luke’s parents both die. He ends up leaving town, only to resurface years later when Charity is twenty-four.
Charity’s father has long planned for her to marry a neighbor with a large ranch of his own so that both families can increase their wealth. But Charity has her own ideas, and she knows she doesn’t love the man her father has chosen for her. When Luke shows up in town, she can hardly keep her eyes off him, even though she knows her father wouldn’t approve. Luke is obviously a gunslinger, and the Shardlow name is synonymous with drunkenness and dishonesty. At first, Luke seems to be purposely cultivating a bad reputation, and everyone wonders why he is back in town.
Actually, Luke is a bounty hunter, and his prey is none other than his outlaw older brother Vance. He intends to catch Vance, claim the reward, and move on to another place where no one has ever heard his disreputable name. But a series of circumstances brings him closer to Charity, and they end up marrying. Initially, the marriage is supposed to be temporary, but Luke and Charity quickly grow to love each other. Unfortunately, Luke still feels unworthy of Charity, and he isn’t sure if he can make the marriage a permanent one. Will he be able to overcome his doubts and trust his heart?
Luke and Charity are both very likable at first. Miller gives just enough background about their childhoods, and it’s easy to understand how they pasts have shaped them. You can’t help rooting for them both to find love together. There are several interesting secondary characters that contribute to the story as well. Charity’s father is a stubborn man, yet his love for his daughter is obvious. He has several challenges throughout the story, and his character always seems real and believable.
Unfortunately, the story just doesn’t build on the strengths of the characters. They actually become less interesting as the book goes on, partly because their actions just don’t seem plausible. For example, Luke seems determined create a bad impression in town. He buys whiskey and drinks in the towns saloon, even though he doesn’t care for alcohol. Somehow this is supposed to help him catch Vance, but I couldn’t see how. Later, Luke puts Charity’s life in danger more than once by riding into obvious traps and leaving her alone and unguarded. At one point he guesses the identity of one of the villains, yet he fails to warn Charity, even though the villain is someone she would be likely to trust. In the end, Luke makes poor choices based on the belief that he is not good enough for Charity, which leads to the disappointing ending. While the requisite happily ever after does arrive eventually, it seems like too little too late.
Miller used to be known for really hot love scenes, but she has gotten away from that lately. The ones in this book are solidly warm, but I found the language distracting. Both lengthy love scenes are characterized by flowery similes and metaphors. In just one scene, the heroine is compared to an Apache’s captive, a wild bird, a jungle creature, a clay pot, and a chalice. In the next one she’s a broom straw, a pagan priestess, and a bird again – this time with a broken wing. The sheer number of these comparisons overwhelmed any romance that was going on.
One Wish isn’t bad, but there are better westerns out there, and better books by Miller as well. If you’ve never tried Miller before, I would recommend my personal favorite by her, Pirates. This one is only so-so.