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Samantha's Heart

The Bride Quilt
by Pamela Quint Chambers
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6214-1
The Bride Quilt tells the humorous and lighthearted tale of Midwestern runaway bride Madeline Preston and her love for strong and silent mountain man Sam Spencer. We first met Maddie and Sam in Samantha's Heart, Chambers' thoroughly charming holiday romance set thirty years after this story opens when they are wizened grandparents dispensing love, advice, and recipes to all and sundry. As I said in that original review, all "Grannie" Spencer needed was a corncob pipe stuck between her teeth to resemble Mammy Yokum. Well, 30 years of living in the mountains made for quite a change in Maddie, as this prequel so entertainingly illustrates.

It's 1845 and Maddie is so desperate to escape an arranged marriage with an overweight, overbearing banker that she signs up with an ex-cavalry officer leading a group of women to California. They make it as far as Luckless, Colorado, before the officer sells Maddie to the highest bidder. Escaping her fate once again, she wanders the mountains in a snowstorm, stumbling upon a small cabin by sheer luck or providence. Once inside, she is so cold she breaks into a locked trunk and unearths a quilt to keep her warm. But because she keeps tripping over the length, she hacks off a foot of the offending material with a hatchet. It is the first of many mistakes Maddie makes in this rugged place.

Not long after, the owner of the cabin, Sam Spencer, appears out of the storm swathed in fur and leading a ragtag pack of children. Maddie is more than a little put out, as this is the same man who outbid her for the only available bedroom in Luckless the night before. But with a spring blizzard ranging outside, Sam has no choice but to let the bossy little tenderfoot stay.

Sam is at a loss. Not only does he have an uppity greenhorn to deal with, but he has also been charged with the care of his recently deceased sister's five children. Ranging in age from 15 to infancy, Sam has no desire to become a father. Those dreams died years before along with his wife and their infant son. But he'd rather deal with sullen, sad children than with an irritating woman who constantly prods him and refuses to let him have the last word.

Maddie admits that she knows next to nothing about surviving in the wilderness. She makes mistakes (like "washing" Sam's leather clothes) but tries her hardest to make the best of the situation. But "that man" refuses to say anything nice to her. She knows she made a big mistake when she damaged the quilt. She had no idea it was Sam's prized possession, handmade by his beloved wife. And why does the idea that he could still be in love with a woman long gone bother her so? Could it be because he isn't as gruff and unfeeling as he pretends. He does have a softer side. And when he smiles…well…it's enough to trip any woman's heart.

The romance between Maddie and Sam is one of slow degrees. Anger that eventually cools, friendship that blossoms, passion that sizzles. They learn to appreciate each other despite their weaknesses and carve a family out of the remnants of broken dreams.

In Maddie, author Pamela Chambers has created another scrappy heroine, one who grows as a woman by recognizing her faults and trying to correct her mistakes. Her "uppity" manner is a perfect counterpoint to Sam's strong and silent demeanor – his backwoods utterances of "see here woman!" actually become romantic declarations. There is a terrific build up of chemistry between these two. Each is convinced the other doesn't care and both are determined to guard their hearts at all costs. The resolution, though rather cliched, is very satisfying.

Pamela Chambers writes engaging homespun romances that will undoubtedly please romances fans interested in start-to-finish entertainment.

--Ann McGuire

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