Stealing the Preacher
I discovered Karen Witemeyer last year through her book Short Straw Bride, book one in the Archer Brothers’ series. The charm and humor in that novel convinced me I had found another author to follow. Stealing the Preacher, book two in this series, solidified that impression.
Crockett Archer is no stranger to danger. For years he and his brothers guarded their land with guns in hand. He is sorry to have left that gun behind when the train he is riding is held up by geriatric bandits. It seems the outlaws need a preacher. Convinced they can’t mean him, a recently ordained minister but stranger to the area, Crockett initially stays quiet. But when they pull out a flyer advertising his appearance at a local church he comes forward to save the other passengers from potential danger.
When Joanne Robbins told her father she wanted a preacher for her birthday she had no idea he would go and kidnap one. She is more than a little surprised to find a handsome cowboy minister hogtied on her front porch with a sheepish “Happy Birthday” from her father and the men who help him work the ranch. She has them free Crockett and even offers him a horse to take him to his destination if he will only take a walk with her. He reluctantly agrees and finds himself at an abandoned church. She explains their minister left for a more lucrative position and their isolated ranch congregation has been looking for someone to fill the role. She knows he will have no desire to do so after being forced there but wonders if he can recommend someone for the job. He assures her he will pray about the issue and heads off for his interview at a church in Brenham, some thirty miles away.
Crockett receives a surprise though when he finds that his unexpected stop is seen as a sign from God by the elders of the Brenham congregation that he is not meant to be their preacher. Realizing that he has Sunday off, he races back to the abandoned chapel and preaches a birthday sermon for Joanne. She is thrilled with the gift and gratified by being able to worship in a church once more. The two work out a way for Crockett to helm the pulpit of their small chapel and Crockett’s ministry begins.
Normally I don’t like novels that revolve around ministers and the salvation of a particular character but this book is so charmingly written it disarmed all my objections. Joanne’s (Jo’s) big desire is for her bandit-turned-rancher father to find the Lord. Unbeknownst to her, he has serious reasons to dislike “sermonizers.” Crockett, who worked on his family ranch for years, is the perfect preacher to reach Silas’ heart. Not only does he have the man’s respect for his hardworking ways, his easygoing personality and straight shooting are precisely what is needed here. Silas has plenty of opportunity to watch Crockett live his faith, since he has to take a job on the Lazy R Ranch until the church can gather sufficient parishioners to pay his salary. This situation makes a big dent toward healing the past for the rancher.
While Crockett is busy impressing her father, he is also sweeping Jo off her feet. The two have plenty of time together as they share ranch meals daily, but they also make time just to get to know each other. It is easy to see how Jo fits perfectly in his life. She has the qualities needed in a ranch wife but combines them with those needed in a preacher’s wife as well. She not only has strong faith with a spirit for evangelism, she has a heart for the disenfranchised and reaches out to them. You can see her making everyone feel welcome in the congregation. Crockett, for his part, is the perfect person for Jo. Like her, his love for God is a primary part of his personality but knowing how to work a ranch also comes second nature to him. This is important since Jo is likely to inherit one. Both find the other attractive but their desire is enriched by their heartfelt emotions and complete compatibility. They also have sweet, slightly screwy senses of humor which make them fun to be around.
The author didn’t use up all her skill on the primary characters; the secondary characters in the book are amazing too. Each one is so real and distinctive. We meet many people, from the men of the Lazy R to young Jackson from the farm next door. It is awe inspiring how Ms. Witemeyer managed to create such compelling people utilizing minimal page space. Each one fits into the story perfectly, enhancing it in exactly the right way.
And I have to say I love, love, love the author’s style of writing. Her books remind me a lot of early Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s novels in her ability to take quirky situations and spin them into genuine, heartfelt romance. She also has a wonderful way of turning a phrase that often brought a smile to my face. There is a scene at the beginning of the book where a young boy challenges Crockett for laughing at his mother’s hat. Crockett had actually been smiling over an inside joke but looking at the object in question he realizes that, “If the sample before him was any indication of the woman’s usual taste in headwear, the poor lad probably had to battle for his mother’s millinery honor constantly.” The author paints this scene so beautifully and sweetly that I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I read it. The book is full of such precious moments.The novel actually raced toward DIK status but derailed a bit towards the end with an over the top scene regarding a “scorned” woman. That moment could have been handled a bit better but it in no way kept this book from being a fantastic read. I strongly recommend it to any reader of the Inspirational market.