Gold Rush Bride by Debra Lee Brown
(Harl. Hist #594, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29194-9
Have you ever finished a book, been amazed that you read 296 pages, and couldn’t really put your finger on what occurred? Gold Rush Bride is a run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience tale that develops into a love story with no real “thing” that sets it apart. The most I can say is I found it acceptable.

Kate Dennington arrives in the California gold fields, fresh from the Irish shore, only to find her father had died two days before. In the tiny mining town of Tinderbox, the law (conveniently found on unbound paper in the attorneys’ office and enforced by a crooked store owner) says no unmarried female or immigrant can own land or run a business. In case you missed it, Kate is both. So Kate decides to approach a local fur trader and ask him to marry her so that she can run the store her father left. She has heard that he is leaving soon for Alaska, so she could have his name, but not his presence. This is a situation she deems perfect, allowing her to earn the money she needs to return to Ireland and her brothers.

Will Crockett, estranged son of a wealthy Philadelphia banker, thinks all women are only out for his money and are deceitful by nature as that is what his dead wife was like. Yet to protect Kate from the aforementioned crooked store owner, Eldredge Landerfelt, Will agrees to marry her, help her run her father’s store and split the money they make on the goods they sell, so they can both leave. This is pretty lame, but if you get through this, the rest of the story is palatable.

When Will decides to stay and protect Kate rather than leaving for Alaska, both are determined to keep the marriage from being binding. They only talk when it is absolutely necessary. Will sleeps away from the store. Misunderstandings abound. Landerfelt sends his hired goons to disrupt shipments and try to break into the store to burn it down. After one thwarted attempt, Will and Kate agree that Will will sleep in the storefront, while Kate stays in the living quarters in the rear.

Eventually Kate comes to care for Will, as she pieces together his past, the reason for his distrust of women and his real nature. Will wants Kate, is drawn to her warmth and optimism, yet he struggles with his internal fears of rejection. The dead wife apparently did quite a number on him, but details were not given, so you just have to accept this for fact. Yet, it is the moments of self-discovery and discovery of the burgeoning love between Kate and Will that drew me into the story.

There are other distractions to the story that I found myself having to overlook. Kate’s accent varies from scene to scene. Supplies seem to come on credit and with little of the expected hardships one would think would be encountered. In general, the daily trials and tribulations of life in an 1849 mining camp are diluted to the point of being non-existent.

Will’s friend Matt is a miner who is in love with a Chinese immigrant, Me-Lei, who befriends Kate. Although discrimination is hinted at and a concern for Matt’s safety when he openly flaunts his love interest in Me-Lei is alluded to, this storyline is left largely undeveloped. A similar relationship between Will and Kate and an Indian couple left me with a sense of incompletion.

The story did pick up in tempo and enjoyment towards the end, as Kate and Will must finally face the fact that love has entered their lives. If this type of sweet love story is your cup of tea, and you can enjoy it around the distractions, then pick up a copy of Gold Rush Bride.

--Shirley Lyons

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