Price McDaniel saved John Bandera's life during a battle near the end of the Civil War. Because he’s half Native American and had no living family, John had nowhere to go to heal his physical and mental wounds after the war’s end. Both men entered into a reluctant partnership; Price wanted to build a successful ranch in Texas to "rival anything back in Russell County, Mississippi," his hometown, and John needed someplace to heal.
John is contemplating where and how he should move on with his life now that he feels his debt to Price has been repaid when Price finds a letter from Emily Russell hidden inside a desk he had shipped from his home in Mississippi. Price, in one of his many drunken stupors, tells John that he has no intention of responding to Emily’s letter, but that John is welcome to write her instead.
After one look at her beautifully written letter and the equally striking picture she had enclosed, John instantly falls in love. He also realizes that writing to her will be the only way he can converse with this woman. He could, under the guise of Price’s name, reveal his true thoughts and feelings to her. Within the next few months, Price disappears without warning, leaving the responsibility of the ranch with John.
John and Emily’s correspondence continues regularly for six years, slowly evolving from friendship into love. However, as with all romances, there are many bumps along the path to happily ever after. The biggest obstacle in Bandera’s Bride is of course John’s lie about his identity. John feels a half-breed such as himself would never be worthy of a delicate southern flower like Emily, even if she is the love of his life.
After six years of writing each other, Emily decides to propose to "Price" and John replies with a final letter of farewell. This response devastates Emily, who turns to her longtime, shy suitor, Alvin Gibbons, for comfort. Alvin dies three months later before Emily can tell him of her pregnancy. Now Emily must leave Mississippi so that her child won’t suffer a badge of illegitimacy. The only place she can think of to go is to Price.
When Emily shows up on his doorstep, John’s troubles really begin. He must not reveal his true feelings to Emily, as well as remember to keep each of his lies straight. On top of that, he has to deal with her furious brother, who tracks her from Mississippi, the jealous daughter of his housekeeper, her secret pregnancy, and the reappearance of a thoroughly pickled Price McDaniel.
The reader can only guess at Emily's motivation in writing to Price that first time because it is never satisfactorily explained why Emily originally wrote to Price, nor why she wasn't surprised to get a response. It appears that they were just acquaintances or neighbors in Mississippi before the war. There is a brief mention that Price was taken prisoner during the Civil War and forced to become a Yankee, thus making him an outcast in Russell County.
The most enjoyable parts of Bandera’s Bride are John’s attempts to keep up with his web of lies. His character is very appealing in temperament and personality. One thing missing from his character development is his family history. There are a couple of hints that he’d had a rough life, but they are unsatisfying teasers. His one flaw is his inability to accurately see Emily for the strong person she is for overcoming the obstacles in her own life.
Emily's is the typical strong-willed female who travels west all alone. Emily and John are a well-matched couple and complement each other in personality. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he discovers that she isn’t always the fragile flower southern women are rumored to be. Emily does eventually experience some of the prejudice that affects John, making her more sympathetic to his reasons for lying. The way that John deals with the gossip and Emily’s eventual understanding are both well portrayed.
If you’re the type of reader who prefers juicy intimate encounters between characters, this probably won’t be the book for you. Bandera’s Bride is a sweet story of two people who think they are opposites, yet overcome every obstacle to essentially fall in love…twice.