Short Straw Bride
I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns. I’ve tried all the greats – Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurty, Zane Grey – but I never really enjoyed them. It seemed that my Western romance experiences weren’t much better – last year I tried a Linda Lael Miller which earned the only F of my private reading. But I have tentatively tried a few Western Inspirationals and have been delighted with the results. I had a smile on my face throughout most of this one.
The book begins in 1870 Anderson County Texas. Young Meredith (Meri) Hayes is the new girl in town and is feeling the affects of being fresh meat for the school bully. When he throws her lunch pail on to Archer land, everyone assures her it is as good as gone. Every one knows the Archers shoot trespassers, even ones of the elementary school variety. Determined to prove her courage, Meredith goes off in search of her pail. She gets a broken leg and a hero for her trouble. When Travis Archer helps Meri home he makes her promise never to tell that the Archer’s don’t live up to their horrible reputations. She promises and doesn’t talk – but she does keep a special place for Travis in her heart for the next twelve years.
In 1882 Meri once more finds herself being bullied. After her parents died, she moved to town to live with her aunt and uncle. She is none too fond of either of them but is close as can be to cousin Cassie. When she is advised that her beloved cousin’s ability to marry well depends on her own ability to do so, Meri tries her best to fall for the man her aunt picks out for her. When she overhears that same man plotting to harm the Archers, all thoughts of anything but helping Travis fly from her mind. She races to his rescue, but will she be on time?
No good deed goes unpunished. The blue eyed imp Travis Archer saved those many years ago has turned into a lovely young woman. When saving his ranch threatens to ruin her reputation, he steps up and offers marriage. Like everything in Travis’ life, this does not go quite as smoothly as planned. His three brothers also want a chance to marry Meri. Their solution? To draw straws to pick the lucky winner. Unfortunately, Meri sees what they’ve done and thinks Travis is the loser of the contest rather than the winner! Nevertheless, after some prayer and mental wrestling, she accepts his proposal.
This lighthearted Western is something of a play on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. For years, the four Archer boys – Travis, Crockett, Neill and Jim – have been prisoners on their ranch. They promised their dying father they wouldn’t leave the land and they haven’t. Meri is the first woman they have seen in ages. They are as excited to have her there as they could possibly be.
Meri, for her part, feels this is the place God has planned for her. Her only concern is if she will be able to make a real success of her marriage. Of course we know she will – this is a romance! Meri is not just what Travis needed – her warm and loving nature is what all the Archers needed in order to learn there is more to life than the prison they have made of their home. While Meri has more than a few moments that border on TSTL, she is saved by two factors. The first is that anyone who is going to survive the four men she lives with will need more courage than sense. Too much thinking would have you running back to town. The second thing that saves her is her heart. Meri always means well and rarely does things with an “Ill show him!” attitude. I liked her a lot.
Travis is a great hero. He fights hard for his family and while he is tough as nails when it comes to most things he has a real soft spot for Meri. Even though they are married, he determines to do a proper courtship and make her feel wooed as well as won. He starts with flowers for the wedding and romantic walks along the creek. Slowly, he shows her how much she has grown to mean to him. There were moments when I wanted to push his courtship along but I was pleased with how much he wanted to win Meri’s heart as well as her hand.
Something I really liked was that there was a bit of raunchy jesting and very mild lust thought involved. Too many Inspirationals have men marrying women they never give a carnal thought to. I just don’t buy that. I doubt many readers do. Ms. Witemeyer didn’t cross any lines but she let us know both characters were very interested in physical intimacy. I thoroughly appreciated her approach.
The faith factor is handled very naturally in this novel. On a scale of one to ten, with one being almost no mention of God and ten being downright preachy, I would put this at about a five. The issues of God’s will for our lives, prayer, and trusting God with what’s important to us are all brought up within the context of the story. I appreciated that none of the characters really sermonized about any issue.
Overall I found this a terrific and fun read. I hope the author does the other four brothers’ stories – I would love to read them. I heartily recommend this one to Inspriational readers.