His Secondhand Wife, by Cheryl St John

21 Oct

His Secondhand Wife, by Cheryl St. John

While not necessarily an automatic buy for me, Ms St John’s novels are consistently good reads. Her writing is unadorned, simple and direct, reading as a story told by a family member or a friend, easy to get lost in.

His Secondhand Wife, a Harlequin Historical romance published back in 2005, is a perfect example of what I mean. This is a sweet story about a lonely man and a woman who finds herself in desperate need of help.

Noah Cutter was a man of his word…

Scarred in body and soul, rancher Noah didn’t consider himself fit company for anyone. But when his brother’s philandering finally caught up with him, honor dictated that Noah claim his brother’s widow as his own…

Standing on her doorstep, with his collar turned up and a rifle by his side, Noah was about the most intimidating man Katherine had ever seen. And though one man’s false promises had already dashed her dreams, she instinctively trusted this stranger. Even more, Kate suspected she’d only be a fool this time if she didn’t take a chance on Noah for the sake of herself… and her unborn child!

For some twenty years after a terrible accident, Noah has kept himself away from town and the people in it. He knows his scarred appearance is fodder for gossip and his solitary nature fuels outrageous speculation. While telling himself he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, Noah finds solace in the knowledge that his younger brother—vibrant, handsome, outgoing Levi—has never been put off by the scars that cover most of his body.

But Levi’s life has always been one of self indulgence, cut short by an outraged—and cuckolded—husband. As Noah claims his brother’s body he learns that Levi left a widow up in the city of Boulder.

Kate Allen Cutter hasn’t seen her flighty husband since just a few short weeks after their wedding. When he left town, he promised to come back for her once he had found a proper and well paying job. She’s almost six months pregnant, desperate and working herself to the bone, when this stranger comes to tell her of Levi’s death and the circumstances around it.

But Noah is not willing to abandon his brother’s widow—nor his unborn child—and offers to take Kate back home, to the ranch he co-owned with Levi. Offered an opportunity to provide a better life for her baby, Kate doesn’t look back even once.

Both these characters are quite likeable.

Kate is strong in many important ways. While accepting Noah’s offer to essentially rescue her, and her baby, from a life of poverty and drudgery, she does not simply let him direct her life or take care of her without giving something back. She stands up to him and to her baby’s grandmother repeatedly—albeit subtly—carving a place for herself in this new life. However, she never understands that as Levi’s widow she owns half of Noah’s ranch. Instead, she feels like a charity case, taken in only for the sake of her baby—who is a Cutter by blood.

For his part, Noah is afraid that there is no reason for Kate to stay at the ranch in the long term; he’s afraid that she will eventually tire of being polite to him, that her acceptance of him is tied to her need for his protection. And so he strives to make her comfortable at the ranch, to give her a life of leisure and luxuries she couldn’t have dreamed of.

This feeling on inadequacy from each drives most of the conflict between Noah and Kate in a manner that feels realistic—if a bit heavy handed in a couple of places. After all, once the baby is born there is the rest of their lives ahead of them. Things will change, because life is change. And so these two struggle to adapt to each other’s personality and needs.

There are a few secondary characters who provide some motivation for the main protagonists’ actions, such as Estelle Cutter, Noah’s stepmother. Estelle’s harsh, controlling and dismissive nature has shaped Noah’s view of himself and others. Some of the town’s womenfolk who befriend Kate, providing her with a different perspective on herself, Noah, her life. The town’s doctor and the preacher. The ranch’s cook and some of Noah’s ranch hands. They all contribute something significant to the storyline without cluttering the narrative just for the sake of populating the town.

All in all, this was a one sitting read (who needs sleep?).

8.00 out of 10

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