The Rancher's Christmas Proposal
The adventures of the classic Spaghetti Western combine with a very mild message of faith and a sweet romance to tell us the story of a rancher and his marriage-of-convenience bride.
Tessa Spencer thought she had finally settled down and settled in when she spots a member of the Fulton Gang in town. Knowing she has only hours before they begin looking for her in earnest she hightails it to the train depot, anxious to take the first train going anywhere. It is there she makes a surprising friend.
Single father Shane McCoy has his hands full trying to run a ranch while raising two-year-old twins. His children clearly need a guiding hand and since it had been his wife’s dearest wish that the kids be raised by her sister if something happened to her, he wound up at the train depot with his rambunctious son and daughter. The plan had been for him to send them on their journey with their aunt. He’s beginning to doubt that arrangement since the kids seem to be running circles around the bitter, angry woman and she looks more suited to be a jailor than a mother. When his son takes off, an exasperated Shane begins to search for him when a lovely stranger approaches with the happy toddler in tow. It quickly becomes apparent she would be a far better choice for mother than the battleax who clearly doesn’t want the job. After a few false stops and starts Tessa and Shane find themselves married with children.
Life on the ranch comes as a surprise to Tessa. She quickly grows fond of the kids but the hard work combined with her husband going AWOL quickly has her exhausted and annoyed. A conversation with Shane fixes some of the problems but she is still wondering how to fix them all when several events happen in quick succession – an accident on the ranch shows just how dangerous life on the frontier can be, Shane’s family comes out and begins to take a hand in their “courtship”, and Tessa’s past finds her. She’s not sure her brand new, barely-there marriage will be able to survive all these tests at once.
This is a romance novel, so of course the reader is assured that it will. I enjoyed the shy, hesitant relationship that Tessa and Shane share. Shane’s first marriage had been very much a marriage-of-convenience with a bride who regretted her decision, and while he wants this one to be better he doesn’t know how to get there. Tessa’s life has been a mess as a result of her father’s selfish decisions; she very much wants something different for her future but doesn’t know how to communicate that to Shane. As Tessa explains, many of their problems are a result of the fact that “Neither of us has ever seen a proper marriage. We have nothing to go by.” Excellent point. I thought the slow pacing accentuated that feature, with both of them taking hesitant steps towards unity and stumbling along the way.
Tessa and Shane are both likable characters with a bit of depth to them. They also fit their situation very well. Neither of them has grand ideas of romance and their place in life. In fact, it is very much emphasized that folks with those attitudes did not fare well in the rugged environment of isolated ranch living. Instead, they are hard workers with humble dreams and devoted hearts. I found that very fitting.
However, given those attitudes I thought the adventure that occurs towards the end was a bit over the top. It was understandable given how the story started and from what we know of Tessa’s past but it seemed a bit exaggerated given the personality of our two characters.
That said I also absolutely loved – like enough that it should be in all caps – the fact that this book showed that exhaustion and exasperation are every bit as much a part of parenting as exhilaration. The two children are adorable but they are work (again all caps would be appropriate here). This is what real parenting is like and it is refreshing to see it in a romance novel.
The Rancher’s Christmas Proposal is a good marriage of convenience story for those who enjoy Westerns and like their tales sweet rather than sexy. If that describes you as a reader I think you will find this an enjoyable read.