The Texan's Wager
When this book started out, I liked it so much I planned to grant it Desert Isle Keeper status. It had everything I like: a moderately tortured hero and a heroine who appears to have some intelligence; an interesting and unique storyline; and good secondary characters. That makes it all the more disheartening that the book failed to live up to its great beginning. As the story progressed, my hopes crumbled.
Bailee Grace Moore and her two friends, Lacy and Sarah, are in a hopeless predicament. Their wagon train left them in the middle of nowhere when Sarah fell sick with a fever that killed her husband and newborn child, and Lacy and Bailee stayed behind to nurse her back to health. Their only option is to head south to Texas and hope they can make the trip with their meager supplies. A day from Cedar Point, Texas, they meet up with the wrong person, Zeb Whitaker. He tries to steal their wagon and abduct Lacy, and as they try and fend him off, Bailee hits him over the head with a board. Since there is a large amount of blood, Bailee believes she has killed him. Lacy and Sarah help take the burden from her as they each hit him with the plank Bailee used. Then they head into Cedar Point to turn themselves in.
As luck would have it, Zeb is known to the town as a dangerous criminal, but the sheriff incarcerates the ladies to determine what actually happened. They find no body, only a large amount of blood. He doesn’t believe the women actually killed them, but Cedar Point is in desperate straits since the male population seriously outnumbers the available women. He makes a deal with them: they can face murder charges, or help out the town and participate in a wife lottery. The women don’t believe they really have a choice, and they agree to the plan.
Carter McKoy, an antisocial man if there ever was one, has decided it would be nice to have someone help him on his parents’ ranch and thinks the idea of a wife will assuage his loneliness. Carter’s parents were killed when he was a boy, and he was left alone with their bodies until the sheriff visited and found them. That day has left him emotionally scarred, as did the loveless family who took him in until he was old enough to run back to his ranch. He has a strong need for security and has set up measures so that he will never be caught unaware again. Most of the townspeople call him a “dummy” because he never speaks and never socializes with anyone except the sheriff.
Bailee draws Carter’s name from the hat, and just like that, they are quickly married. She doesn’t know what to make of him, especially as he is reluctant at first to talk to her. This man has had such a tough time of it, he buys one loaf of bread a month and savors every bite because he doesn’t remember how his mother made it. He is completely alone except for an old carpenter who visits his property every so often. Carter nearly made the book for me. His parents were unusual yet loving people, and it makes sense why he doesn’t talk often. Had the book just focused on the growing relationship between he and Bailee, that would have been enough. They needed to grow to trust each other and find out each other’s secrets to make their quickie marriage a real one. (Did I mention he was a virgin hero?)
I wanted to read more of Carter and Bailee together, because what I saw of their relationship was tentative, sweet, sensous, and wonderful. Instead, what the reader sees of their relationship is hurried all and too much attention is focused on rescuing a child who is in danger, protecting Bailee from a villain, drunken deputies out for money, and other extraneous plot devices. It is also strongly implied that some terrible event in Bailee’s past is what caused her to head West, and yet the reader is never given the details of this event. As this was obviously a defining moment in her life and the basis for a good many of her feelings and actions, the reader is left with a large gap in defining this character.
I weep for the book this might have been because Bailee and Carter’s relationship took a backseat to everything else in The Texan’s Wager. And yet I take heart that the next book in this series, Sarah’s story, will be better. As frustrating as I found this book (and as average as I found The Texan’s Dream, an earlier book by this author), it engaged my interest enough that I’ll consider giving the sequel a try and hope for the best.