Desert Isle Keeper
The Bad Man's Bride
Books such as The Bad Man’s Bride are the reason I continue reading romance novels. I don’t know why, but it seems true keepers are harder and harder to come by these days. The hero won my heart, totally and completely. Gabriel Jackson is larger than life and acts in truly heroic ways. Gabe is better than he, or anyone else in town, believes, and is a loving and compassionate man. Heroine Anthea Bright is plucky and endearing and approaches her life with logic and forthrightness. Anthea’s life has changed drastically, yet she deals with these unexpected circumstances with courage and good sense. Secondary characters are all fully realized and compliment the story. Even the “villains” are human and act in ways consistent with who they are. Stereotypes could have been so easy to fall into here, but the author has avoided that trap by creating people and a story that captured my interest, and my heart.
Miss Anthea Bright is a school teacher newly arrived in Haven, Kansas from Philadelphia. Anthea and her sisters were pampered all their lives, but upon their father’s death, the Bright sisters found themselves penniless. To help support herself and her sisters, Anthea, the middle daughter, has taken a poorly-paid teaching position in far off Kansas. But when the straight-laced, tough-minded Miss Bright arrives at her new post, she gets much, much more than she bargained for.
Gabriel Jackson is the town bastard. His pregnant mother arrived in Haven nearly thirty years earlier in an effort to find the man who got her in trouble. When she discovered he was already married, she stayed in Haven anyway. Ill-treated and ignored his whole life, Gabe left Haven the first chance he got. He only returned a few months earlier to stay with his dying mother and take possession of her meager, run-down property. Upon his arrival, Gabe discovered the town had a new bastard to taunt. Lily Ross is a little girl, the orphaned child of the town whore. When the whore dies and the child is left alone in the world, Gabe takes her in, leading the entire town, including Lily and Anthea, to think that he is her father.
Anthea and Gabriel meet when Gabe storms the school and accosts Anthea, insisting that she forget trying to teach Lily deportment, but only reading and writing and arithmetic. Anthea bristles against Gabe’s onslaught, and insists that school is more than just the three R’s, but includes social skills as well. Gabe finds the teacher intriguing, especially when she treats him and Lily with kindness and fairness, something neither he nor the little girl have ever known from the good people of Haven.
Over the course of the winter, love begins to insinuate itself into their hearts, whether they want it to or not. They share heated kisses and sexy encounters and Gabe discovers that Anthea is as passionate as he is. Oh, she’s cool and detached as a teacher, but as a woman, she flirts with him (yes, flirts!) and gives as good as she gets. When Gabe is tempted to go slowly with her, Anthea delights him and the reader with her honesty and ardor, and some surprises of her own.
A secondary love story exists between the town’s golden boy, Phillip Cox, and his beautiful wife, Cleo, a woman who was deflowered by Gabe when they were both just fifteen. Gabe has long forgotten it, but Cleo clings to the memory and has built a scenario of love and devotion from a single, quick, unfulfilling encounter. Phillip is completely in love with his wife but has spent his years of marriage to her as an also-ran, secondary to Gabe in his wife’s mind. He is angry and frustrated, and the only thing he wants in life is for his wife to love him. He blames Gabe for this, but underneath it all, he, too, in an honorable man. When he and Gabe come to terms with the situation, that little scene is one of the reasons this book rises above the rest and gives the reader two heroes to root for.
Under Anthea’s tutelage and care, Lily begins to blossom. A student who hates Anthea tries to make her life miserable, and very nearly succeeds, but Anthea knows just what to do. For Christmas, Gabe gives Anthea a gift that is not only unusual, but has her flying into his arms. It was charming and sweet, and very typical of Gabe. I loved him even more than I had before. There are other incidents that had me sighing about Gabe, his bravery and his kindness, but you need to discover them yourselves. It is not until the very end of the story, however, that Anthea actually becomes The Bad Man’s Bride, so the book’s title and back cover blurb are entirely misleading. While odd, I really didn’t care.
Most of the loose ends are tied up by the end of the book, but there was one that left me wondering. Just what happened to Phillip and Cleo?
This is one of those books that is satisfying to finish, and with each day that has passed since I read it, I realize just how much I liked it. I keep finding more and more reasons to mull it over in my mind, enjoying the memory each time I do. The Bad Man’s Bride is quiet, not over the top in any way, and offers the reader characters who learn and grow and mature. This is my first Keeper in a long, long time. I hope the other Bright sisters will have heroes as sexy and wonderful as Gabe; I can hardly wait to find out. For a bad man, Gabriel was awfully good.