The Outlaw's Mail Order Bride
Ex-outlaw Clay Colby is having a bad week, one he hopes the arrival of his new mail-order bride will help improve. Fighting with Montana Black over the development of the town of Devil’s Crossing is just one of the reasons why he’s having a hard time of it. Black has resisted Colby’s building of Devil’s Crossing and burns down Colby’s homestead in a show of rebellion. Clay wants to make Devil’s Crossing a bright, thriving place; still psychologically scarred from his Civil War service, he yearns for a partner to share his life with, and after two failed attempted marriages, he called to Luke Legend for help. Luke is an ex-outlaw himself, and he and his wife Josie have a matchmaking business that sets up men of the west with prospective brides from back east. Clay and the girl Luke sets him up with exchange some letters, and soon enough, Luke arrives with Clay’s prospective bride to see the ashes of Clay’s homestead.
Tally Shannon escaped from Creedmore Hospital, where she’d been falsely imprisoned, and she carries scars both physical and mental from her time there. Branded with a diamond upon her cheek, she’s surprised by Clay’s tenderness, his seeming ability to read her mind, and his practicality. In return for his protection, she agrees to have his children, wear his ring and share his bed as well as help him rebuild Devil’s Crossing, as long as he’ll also protect Violet, an eight year old blind orphan Tally has been taking care of since she fled the institution.
Clay and Tally quickly bond, as do Clay and little Violet, but they have to battle their scars and memories to win a future together. For Clay is (still) wanted for murder, and Tally has the kind of history that’s reluctant to stay buried. Will they be able to make peace with their pasts and Montana Black? Or will their scars eat them alive?
The main problem with The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride’s is its too-fast pacing. It has some tough, unique characters, but we rush through their getting-to-know one another process so quickly that it feels like there’s barely time to get to know Clay and Tally, let alone for them to find love with one another.
That’s not to say that Clay isn’t strong, stalwart, determined and good; and the same goes for Tally, who’s been through some amazingly dark things (yep, be aware that this book includes descriptions of previous forced abortions and rape and doesn’t shy away from how ugly asylums were in the 1800s). These are two deeply scarred people who have to figure out how to survive and live, but they trust and fall for one another almost instantaneously. There are dashes of vulnerability, anxiety and trauma, but within the first night of her sleeping under Clay’s temporary roof, she and Clay are snuggling together, and fifty pages in Clay says he loves her. It all happens way too quickly, and I couldn’t help but feel that the reader would have benefitted from seeing the correspondence that passed between them while getting to know one another. Missing out on that makes much of what happens feel very abrupt, though it does nicely set up the book’s theme of them-against-the-world.
And Violet – abused all of her life until she met Tally – starts calling Clay ‘Daddy’ within pages of meeting him, even though she’s been afraid of men all her life. She feels more like four or five-years-old instead of eight, though considering her background and the abuse heaped upon her that’s understandable.
The people who populate the novel are interesting and more complex than meets the eye, which is why it’s so frustrating to have almost everything be given the short shrift for another kidnapping or stand-off or even a courtroom scene. At three hundred pages this should be enough space to let the relationship grow realistically, but so much of the novel involves old-west style sieges and derring doo that there’s little room for careful relationships and inter-character bonding. Violet or Tally are forever going missing or running away, Clay is forever being shot at, and the homestead is always on fire. It’s great to watch them overcome together, but the romance needed so much more meat on its bare bones.
The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride does a lot of things right, and its view on abuse is realistically grim, but the romance needed more time to perk up before being put on the menu. It’s sweet, tender and made of two equals but the speed at which it progresses makes it impossible for me to give anything other than a qualified recommendation.