The Best Man

Brides of Prairie Gold

I Do, I Do, I Do

Promise of Jenny Jones

Silver Lining

A Stranger's Wife

The Bride of Willow Creek
by Maggie Osborne
(Ivy, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-449-00518-6
Maggie Osborne is one of the few historical romance authors whose books are auto-buys for me. Thatís quite an honor, coming from a dedicated contemporary romance reader! Iíve always appreciated her plain-speaking, down-on-their-luck heroes and heroines who donít let a little thing like the American frontier get in their way. The Bride of Willow Creek is classic Osborne, although not her most memorable novel to date.

Ten years ago, Angie Bartoli and Sam Holland eloped, but their marriage never made it to its first night. The disapproval of Angieís father, and the young coupleís unwillingness to fight for their relationship, resulted in Angieís remaining behind in Chicago while Sam traversed the West, looking for gold. Now, with few resources, Angie has arrived in the small Colorado mining town of Willow Creek, looking for Sam, and a divorce. She finds, instead, several surprises. Thereís less than she hoped for - Sam doesnít have enough money to afford the divorce. And thereís more than she could have imagined in her worst nightmare - he is the father of two daughters, and he readily admits that he loved their mother.

Laura, the woman Sam loved, passed away a year ago, and he needs help. With no other option available, Angie agrees to live in Samís small house and take care of the girls while he works his newest stake and tries to find the riches to finance the divorce. The two both believe they were the wronged party ten years ago, but they agree to be civil. But thatís before Angie has to deal with the myriad emotions raised by two lonely but wary motherless girls, and before Sam admits the reason behind his inability to save any money. Once the initial mistrust has abated, Angie and Sam realize that the same attraction that brought them together ten years ago is still very much alive, and has matured into something even more powerful. But while Sam had a long-term relationship with Laura, Angie has spent ten lonely, chaste years. Sheís angry at the injustice, but sheís also curious about what she has been missing.

Bride of Willow Creek includes only one love story, unlike Osborneís recent multi-character romance, I Do, I Do, I Do. Fortunately, itís a good one. Both Sam and Angie are honorable individuals who try to make the best of a difficult situation. There are few hissy fits or temper tantrums. Yet both have some growing up to do in order to understand the otherís point of view. Angie has never been in charge of a household without a cadre of servants, but she adapts well without any annoyingly helpless behavior. She doesnít whine about the hard work she takes on, and she doesnít hold a grudge against her neighbor Molly, even though she had befriended Laura. In fact, Angie eventually learns to understand why Laura was willing to live in sin with the man she loved.

Focusing on one romance allows Osborne to develop strong secondary characters. Samís two daughters are sweet without being cutesy. Watching the antipathy between them and Angie turn to respect, and eventually love, is extremely poignant. Lauraís parents play a large part in the story, and while they are the nominal villains, they are multifaceted and not beyond compassion.

Osborne is skilled at combining drama, sexual tension and humor in a historically accurate but somehow romantic package, and she doesnít disappoint with Bride. In fact, the novel suffers only in comparison to its predecessors. Itís not as madcap as the hunt by three wives for their bigamist husband in I Do, and itís not as poignant as Low-Downís silver spoon in Silver Lining. The characters arenít as fascinating as the unforgettable title character in The Promise of Jenny Jones or the reluctant politician in A Strangerís Wife. But you know that if Maggie Osborneís name is on the cover, youíre going to be treated to a quality historical and a rewarding love story.

--Susan Scribner

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