Sunday, January 25, 2009

Duncan's Bride by Linda Howard ****

This is a short Silhouette category romance from early in Linda Howard's career (1990). Reese Duncan is a trademark Howard hero - alpha, stubborn and not very nice to his woman until he figures it out. He's a rancher who went through a bitter divorce from a woman who took half his assets. Now he figures all women are like her, but he has a biological clock issue: he wants an heir. For that he needs a wife - and for a rancher out in the middle of nowhere, working 14 hour days, he decides to go the mail-order bride route and advertises.

Madelyn is Robert Cannon's stepsister (Robert is the seriously badass alpha hero in the sequel, Loving Evangeline.) If you read the stories in order, you meet Robert in this one and learn to hate him in the next - I read LE first, so I was already wary. But Reese isn't as bad as Robert, he just needs a lot of sensitivity training to catch on. Although Maddie is in NYC, a friend's mom sends her the local Omaha paper every week, and she sees the ad there. On a whim she answers it - and flies out to meet him.

It's lust at first sight for both of them - but Reese decides this NYC fashionista will be the same as the evil first wife, so he turns her down. Eventually, though, he changes his mind after the only other 2 candidates don't pan out.

It's no bed of roses, being a rural rancher's wife, but Maddie does her darnedest to learn to keep up - she cooks, she works in the barn, she rides along on fencing missions and cow herding. They even decide to go ahead and start a family. But the real conflict comes when it's time to face facts about the mortgage - he refuses to let her use her money to help pay for anything, afraid she'll take it all in a divorce. It takes him a long time to realize that she's in it for life - and that she needs to hear him commit as well.

I was impressed with this realistic look at the relationship - for one thing, Maddie is a virgin and the initial love scenes don't gloss over that and have them both in simultaneous ecstasy several times. In fact, it's a while before she even looks forward to it - he's not the "usual" romance hero who is an incredible lover who turns virgins into wantons in one move. In spite of their lust, Howard doesn't have them falling in love right away, and their relationship grows realistically. OK, yeah, it's fiction, and the chances of these initial circumstances even happening are pretty slim, still it didn't have me rolling my eyes constantly!

So I'm going with 4 stars. It fits the Winter 2008 Challenge and the Serial Reader's Challenge too.

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