Winston Gray is the doctor in the small Montana town of Whitehorn. Since it is 1897, he makes house calls in the morning and holds office hours in the afternoon. He is also ready to make calls anytime during the evening. One of his afternoon appointments is Ellie Mitchum. She thinks that she has a tumor in her stomach and is dying. Winston has to tell her that she is not dying, but pregnant. Since she is young, single, and the daughter of a stern, unsympathetic father, he worries about her after she leaves his office.
The next time he sees Ellie is when Tess, a kind shopkeeper, brings her to him, bruised and beaten by her father. Ellie had walked miles into town with her few possessions after he also kicked her out of the house. Tess convinces Winston that Ellie could be a lot of help to him. He can't cook and has little time to take care of his house or himself. Since Ellie had run the household for her father after her mother's death, she knows how to make a pleasant home. Winston agrees because he knows that Ellie will have a hard time on her own and pregnant.
Ellie quickly turns his house into a home. She has had little love or affection in her life, so Winston's praise takes her by surprise. He begins to see how very lovely she is and delights in her goodness and her strong spirit. When he starts hearing rumors about the fact that they are living unmarried in the same house, he convinces her to marry him for the sake of her reputation. It does not take long before this marriage of convenience turns into a real marriage.
Most of the conflicts in the story are from external sources rather than internal. Despite the circumstances of their quick marriage, Winston and Ellie don't spend a lot of time wondering and doubting each other. The external conflicts are several. The young man who is the baby's father arrives back in town with his mother and decides that he wants to marry Ellie. Her father is in cahoots with the two of them and tries to force her into an annulment from Winston. And Winston's mother arrives, a proper St. Louis matron who believes that Winston is wasted in the West, away from his upper class family. That he married a pregnant nobody doesn't help at all.
The pacing is a bit uneven. The middle part of the book that includes a kidnapping had me racing through the pages to find out what was happening. Once that episode is over, the pace slows down quite a bit and it felt like the author was trying to add on new episodes to get the book to a certain page count.
I did like Winston and Ellie. Winston is a man of integrity who stood up to his family of lawyers and businessmen to become a country doctor. His loving care of Ellie and willingness to defend her is quite touching. Ellie should have been this meek, mild person, but she does stand up for herself and her baby. I did find it a little hard to believe that after living all of her life on a working ranch, she didn't realize that she was pregnant.
The "good" secondary characters are well drawn. Tess and her husband, Kate (the school teacher) and James (the sheriff) Kincaid, and the healer Ruth Kincaid, the Indian wife of Caleb Kincaid, are integral parts of the story. The "bad" characters are a bit more stereotypical. The baby's father is a mama's boy and mama is a pushy, grasping witch. Ellie's father is a brute who sees his daughter as property. I found his late-in-the-book redemption unbelievable, particularly since he beats and brutalizes Ellie more than once.
This is the first of the "Montana Mavericks" books that I've read. I could tell that both Kincaid brothers had been in previous books, but this one easily stands on its own.
--B. Kathy Leitle