Allie's Moon

Harper's Bride

A Taste of Heaven

Montana Born and Bred by Alexis Harrington
(St. Martin’s, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97587-2
Remember “Baby M”? There we had one of the celebrated law cases of the past decade, when a woman agreed to be a surrogate mother for a wealthy couple, only to decide after the child was born that she could not part with her daughter. Well, believe it or not, Alexis Harrington has transposed this situation to the late 19th century and managed to provide a convincing and compelling story of a woman who unwittingly became a surrogate mother and her desperate attempt to keep her baby.

Sarah Kincade was a respectable school teacher in Helena, Montana, when she met Ethan Pembroke. He wooed her and won her, gaining her trust and promising a happy future. But the bubble burst when she informed him she was pregnant. Ethan appeared at her door not with the expected wedding ring but rather with his wife. Seems Priscilla couldn’t have children. Ethan had promised his wealthy father-in-law to give her everything she wanted to make her happy. When their two adopted daughters mysteriously died, Ethan and Priscilla came up with a plan to get a child without any suspicious antecedents. They decided that Sarah was the perfect candidate to bear their child. Thus, Ethan’s courtship. He even convinced Sarah to put his name on her bank account.

When Sarah discovered her plight and the fact that Ethan had stolen her savings, the desperate woman seemed to have no choice but to agree to give the Pembrokes her baby in exchange for support during her pregnancy. But when Danny was born, she discovered that she couldn’t part with her baby. Thus, she fled to the tiny town of Lame Horse, which needed a school teacher and didn’t object when said teacher brought her infant “nephew” with her. Sarah lives in fear that Ethan will send someone to track her down.

Ethan does just that; he sends Zach Garrett to find his son. Armed with a court order enforcing the contract Sarah was forced to sign, Zach has no trouble convincing the local sheriff that he has a right to force Sarah to return to Helena. Zach wants to get back to Helena as soon as possible. Ethan has made him an offer he can’t refuse. He’ll tear up the mortgage note that has deprived Zach of his ranch. Zach will do anything to get his ranch back, or so he thinks.

Having found Sarah and Danny, Zach now faces the problem of getting them across the length of Montana. The stage won’t be through for two weeks and Zach won’t wait. So he buys a wagon, packs up Sarah, Danny and Isabel, the goat, and the ill-assorted party sets out. Before the trek is over, Zach will learn the truth about Danny’s birth and will reevaluate his priorities.

Harrington has succeeded in making an unusual premise believable because she creates characters whose actions made and make sense. Sarah, at twenty-seven, was ripe for Ethan’s promises, yet she had enough courage and determination to try to thwart his aims. Zach, an orphan from the streets of New York who was sent west to a brutal foster father on one of the famous “orphan trains,” has an understandably single-minded determination to recover his ranch. Yet he also has an underlying humanity which permits him to begin to understand that there are more important things than money.

That the experience on the trail should melt his hard heart makes sense. That Sarah should fall in love with this man who, for all his seeming ruthlessness, cares for her and her son, is likewise understandable.

In Ethan Pembroke, Harrington has created a truly despicable villain. While one could have some sympathy for the father of “Baby M,” one can have little for Ethan. He is a ruthless user who will do anything to get what he wants. Ultimately, this will contribute to his inevitable downfall.

Born and Bred in Montana (a really terrible title) passed my pick up/put down test. Even in the midst of the Christmas rush, I didn’t want to put this one down. And Sarah, Zach and Danny stayed with me after I finished the story. This one tugs at the heartstrings.

--Jean Mason

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