The Courtship of Izzy McCree
by Ruth Langan
(Harl. Hist. #425, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29025-X
****
I admit it - I'm a sucker for a good mail-order-bride story, and The Courtship of Izzy McCree is one of the best ones I've read in recent months. Ruth Langan avoids the fish-out-of-water plot, thank goodness, and instead presents the tale of what might happen to a lonely, capable woman looking for a home and a man who has no idea how much he needs her.

Isabella McCree arrives at the isolated home of Matthew Prescott in answer to his ad for a bride and mother for his four children. The Prescott ranch is located on the slopes of the Sierras. Pennsylvania-born Isabella is undaunted; this family needs her and she needs them. Unfortunately, her first encounter with the Prescotts is unnerving. Matthew hasn't the slightest idea what she's doing there. He never advertised for a wife.

Isabella hasn't enough money to return to Pennsylvania. When the truth of the matter comes out that Matthew's oldest son actually penned the letter Matthew decides having a wife and someone to help civilize his kids isn't a bad idea. He offers marriage, and Isabella accepts. Neither are looking for love, so they feel this is a good arrangement.

Love, however, finds them both. Matthew is bewildered by Isabella's fear of physical intimacy. Isabella has some secrets to hide, ones that come to light when an old and nasty acquaintance happens upon the ranch. Normally I detest lame coincidences that have people meeting up thousands of miles from home. But Langan makes this one entirely plausible.

There are a couple of scenes that brought a smile to my face. The house is a pigsty, and Isabella sets out to clean it up right away. Matthew's blindness to the condition of his home and his kids could have played out as oafishness on his part; instead, Langan paints him as a man who struggles so hard just to survive that clean floors are a luxury. I bought it, no problem. And Isabella's gradual reformation of the unkempt kids and cabin was fun and realistic. No immediate miracles here, just a lot of hard work.

Matthew and Isabella make a formidable team, once they get past Isabella's upbringing and find out they truly care for each other. The ending came as a bit of a surprise, which was nice. And I liked how the climax of the story had Isabella in a proactive role. Women of the west must have been resourceful, and Isabella is no slouch in that department.

This was a fast read less than two hours and I give full credit to the author for keeping the story moving at a rapid clip. Matthew and Isabella, two imperfect and lonely people who desperately need each other, are engrossing. The Courtship of Izzy McCree is a rock-solid example of an entertaining western romance. Enjoy.

--Cathy Sova


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