A woman who is gutsy enough to go to perfect strangers and ask if she can interview their ranch hands for one to become her husband and help her save her ranch made for an amazing blurb and I was definitely eager to see how that turned out. This ended up being a touching marriage of convenience style story that grew into a beautiful romance.
As I was reading this book, I got the impression that it was connected to another story though it also worked fine as a standalone. In fact, I thought the other story sounded like one of my favorite all-time musicals ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Imagine my delight when I went to type up the review and noticed on Amazon with a different publisher that there is indeed a series by this author called The Seven Brides featuring the Randolf family that are strong side characters in this book. So, I guess this is a spin-off or part of that series. From what I can tell, this story would chronologically fit behind the first book in that series since only the oldest Randolf brother was married during this story and this story is about Salty who worked at the Randolf’s ranch, but was unrelated.
Alright, so this story begins when widow, Sarah Winborne, and her two children arrive at the Randolf’s ranch in search of a man. Sarah’s husband died in the Civil War and through the war and the last two years, she has reached a point that she may lose her family ranch. Sarah has worked hard all her life finding things hard first with her father and then her husband. She was secretly relieved when he didn’t come back from the war since he was never happy working the ranch, with his daughter and definitely not with a son who had a withered leg. Sarah has made due with indifferent and lazy hired men which was all she could afford. But now, she can’t even afford them and figures a husband won’t cost her money. Sarah has no desire to give over her hard-won independence so she has rules for the man she will take as husband and one is that it is strictly a business partnership which leaves out Salty Wheeler the man she is attracted to and who seems friendly and kind with her children. The Randolphs speak highly of him and she agrees, but dare she choose a man who she struggles to keep at a distance?
Salty grew up hard and lived with a bitter man. He came back from the war just wanting to settle on his own place and live in peace, but he can’t afford it. Along comes determined and hard-working Sarah Winborne with her shocking proposal. At first, she told him that she wouldn’t choose him because she liked him which hurt a little, but then he’s not sure who is more surprised when Rose Randall asks who Sarah picked out of the hands and it’s Salty’s name she speaks. He adores her children and loves the idea of working hard to build up her ranch and getting his own land out of the deal when he sets things to rights. Salty can see that Sarah has been treated poorly by the men in her life and he understands her fear that he will be like the others. He has to go carefully and gently with her and her children. He knows that he has found something special with them. With each passing day, he hopes she changes her mind about a marriage in name only and a divorce when he gets the ranch on solid footing. He is helped by her two children and even her own attraction, but can Sarah get past her fears to accept him into her family?
Through a greedy neighboring ranch owner, a resentful former ranch hand and hard work the ranch slowly is brought back with everyone working as a team. Both Sarah and Salty feel the pull of family, togetherness, and love. Then the unthinkable happens and they face the fact that all might be lost just when they thought they had found happiness.
This starts as a marriage of convenience for two people who come together offering something both need. Sarah needs a hardworking man to help her save her ranch so she offers Salty a deal where he will get half the ranch when things are back in the black. Sarah wants it to stay a business deal and nothing else. From the beginning, she struggles as does he and the children accept Salty unconditionally and treat him as their father. Sarah’s children have been hungry for love and acceptance because of the way they have been treated first by a father who left and didn’t want them and then by a everyone else but Sarah. Sarah herself was used and even abused by her demanding husband so that all of them need a gentle, caring man like Salty to heal their emotional wounds. And Salty needs them too. His dad was always demanding of him and then after his dad was in the accident and paralyzed, Salty was forced to care for a bitter, hateful man that left him more emotionally carved up than fighting in the war though that was rough on him too. He wants a family and a home and people to love and care for who love and care for him right back. Though reluctant to fight, Salty is no coward and takes care of the ranch and his new family.
I loved the gently paced plot that had a slow-build passionate romance and a good description of daily life on a small neglected ranch in post-war Texas. The backstory of the characters and the inclusion of colorful side characters was well done as was the engaging plot. I liked the spikes of excitement caused by the people who wanted Salty and Sarah to fail, but also the fun times including visits with the Randolfs and Salty bringing joy back into the three Winbornes’ lives.
All in all, this was a fantastic story and a treat for my Western Historical Romance loving heart. I can easily recommend this one to others. I plan to go back and hunt down more by this author who is fast becoming a must read.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #239 HR
New to Me #99 series
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