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The Colorado Bride

The Lightkeeper’s Woman

The Perfect Wife

Rafferty's Bride

The Unexpected Wife
by Mary Burton
(Harl. Historical #708, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29308-9
If you haven’t read a mail-order bride tale in a while, The Unexpected Wife might be a nice diversion. The hero is a stock “I’ll never love anyone but my dead wife” fellow, but at least the heroine has some spunk.

Abby Smyth is tired of working as a kitchen maid in her wealthy aunt and uncle’s home. Considered not quite good enough for high society, Abby has been carrying on a mail romance with a man she’s never met – one Matthias Barrington, a rancher in Crickhollow, Montana. Abby accepts his offer of marriage and steals away to a new life.

Except Matthias has never heard of her. The local storekeeper, Hilda Clements, has been forging the letters in an attempt to bring a woman to Crickhollow for Matthias to marry, one who will be a new mother to his two young sons. When Abby arrives, Matthias absolutely refuses to have her on the ranch, but Abby won’t take no for an answer. She proposes acting as his housekeeper until the end of the summer.

Abby has some spine to her, which is a welcome relief from the usual tale of a clueless socialite traveling west on a lark with dreams of a hunky cowboy in her head. Abby can cook, clean, care for the boys, and help around the ranch. She stubbornly refuses to leave, even when Matthias tells her flat-out that he still loves his dead wife and will never love another woman. And no matter what Matthias feels inside and how attracted he is to Abby, he’ll never change his mind or reconsider his thinking, no sirree. This annoying thick-headedness on his part is somewhat offset by Abby’s strong demeanor and calm determination to make a new life for herself.

Abby does have her moments of nitwit behavior, and because she’s mostly written as strong and sensible, they are jarring. Some of the stuff that comes out of her mouth sounds like an eight-year-old spoke it. When Matthias warns her not to leave the house at night without a gun because there are bears in the area, her response is

”I saw a bear in a carnival once. It looked friendly enough. It wore a red vest and a laced collar.”

I believe that was intended to be “lace” collar, but whatever. It’s still an idiotic response.

The plot is predictable, right up to the misunderstanding that drives a wedge between them. Matthias holds on to his self-righteous attitude until the last two pages, and in typical alpha-male fashion, can only admit he loves Abby after she’s nearly killed and it’s forced out of him. This leaves readers with the impression that, if the heroine doesn’t come close to death, the hero will never admit how he feels about her. It’s stale storytelling. Are there no heroes who are self-aware enough to simply admit they were wrong?

The Unexpected Wife features a heroine who’s intriguing enough to make it a pleasant diversion, but it isn’t likely to make a lasting impression.

--Cathy Sova

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