Letter to a Lonesome Cowboy

A Montana Man

The Secret Daughter

A Willing Wife by Jackie Merritt
(Silhouette, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN: 0-373-65033-7
I am trying to figure out why the “Fortunes of Texas” series is not drawing me in the way the “Fortune’s Children” books did. Perhaps it’s the fact that the unifying thread is not as strong. In the FC books, most of the Fortune children’s stories were shaped, in some sense, by the provisions of Kate Fortune’s will and/or by the threat to the Fortune empire. In the FT books, the underlying plot has to do with the machinations of the evil Sophia Fortune. Somehow, the books don’t hang together all that well.

A Willing Wife is a case in point. Unlike its immediate predecessor, this installment does advance the overall storyline. But the scenes and episodes that deal with Sophia’s doings and the fate of Baby Bryan seem forced and intrusive.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a problem had I found the romance in Jackie Merritt’s book more convincing. Unfortunately, this particular version of the Cinderella story didn’t work for me.

Dallas Fortune, son of patriarch Ryan, is a widower. Two years earlier his wife Sara, the only woman he had ever loved, died in childbirth. Their infant son died as well. Since then, Dallas has retreated into solitude. He still runs the Fortune ranch, but he has refused all efforts to bring him out of his shell. Then, one day, he rescues a young boy who has climbed onto a corral fence and is about to fall under the hooves of milling cattle. He returns young Travis Randall to his mother, Maggie Perez Randall. When Dallas looks into Maggie’s lovely eyes and views her luscious figure, he feels stirrings of desire for the first time in years.

So what does Dallas do? He ambles over to the Perez house and suggests that the two of them get it on. This is where things started going wrong for me. Granted that Dallas is a bit shook, but his crass approach is entirely out of character, to put it mildly. Needless to say, Maggie is not enthralled by Dallas’ crude suggestion. She assumes that, as a Fortune, he thinks that he can have whatever he wants. Well, she’s not going to play.

Maggie had had to get married when she got pregnant with Travis. Her marriage was not a success. Then she lost her job in Phoenix to a bank merger. She had come home to her parents’ until she could find a new job. Her parents both worked for the Fortunes, her father as foreman and her mother as housekeeper. She had grown up with the Fortune children, but she knew the vast gap that existed between their privileged lives and hers. She is not going to get involved with a Fortune, not given her track record with men.

Much of the rest of the book revolves around Dallas’ efforts to overcome the horrible first impression he made with Maggie. He is almost as taken with Travis as he is with Maggie, which gives him entre into the Perez’ lives. And then there’s Maggie’s mother, Rosita, who thinks that Maggie is a fool to resist Dallas’ advances.

Maggie herself is certainly attracted to the handsome Fortune. A convenient electrical storm forces the two to take refuge in a convenient line shack where propinquity leads to as much electricity within as without. But Maggie can’t get past that first encounter or the fact that Dallas is a Fortune.

At times as I was reading, I felt as if Maggie doth protest too much. But Dallas ineptness certainly didn’t help. I spent more time annoyed with the hero and heroine than attracted to them.

So A Willing Wife left me less than satisfied. Will I read the next installment of the “Fortunes of Texas?” Sure. Hope springs eternal and all that.

--Jean Mason

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