If I needed to give a concise description of Luke’s Runaway Bride, it would be “predictable, but sweet.” Kate Bridges has crafted a tender romance between two very different characters, and a decently written one, at that. The problems arise when you consider the following question: How sweet and predicable can you be before you cross the line into the territory of sappy and boring? This book, while not actually crossing that line, comes perilously close at times.
The book opens in Denver, in 1873. Jenny Eriksen is celebrating her engagement to prominent businessman Daniel Kincaid. Mild-mannered (or so she believes), and well respected in the town, he is everything Jenny has always wanted in a husband. Her father, who has worked his way up in the railroad industry, has worked with Daniel for years, and is very supportive of the match. If at times Jenny feels a twinge of regret that Daniel is unsupportive of her personal dreams (going to college, opening her own lingerie store), well, that’s a small price to pay, right?
Enter Luke McLintock, our soon-to-be hero. Jenny bumps into him when she runs home from the engagement party to repair her dress. Unbeknownst to her, he has just had a run-in with mild-mannered Daniel that resulted in a gunshot wound. Luke has come to town to convince Daniel, his old boyhood friend, to come back to Cheyenne to take responsibility for his illegitimate son, Adam. Adam’s mother has died, and there isn’t anyone there to take care of him. Daniel doesn’t believe the boy is his, and doesn’t really care about his welfare. Jenny, entirely unaware of all of this, only sees Luke’s bleeding wound and begins to help him. When Luke realizes that he has Daniel’s fiancée within his grasp, Luke decides to turn the tables on Daniel by abducting Jenny in the hopes that it will force Daniel to follow them to Cheyenne and finally deal with Adam.
Upon arriving in Cheyenne, Jenny is angry and scared, but sure that Daniel will come rescue her on the next train. Well, her knight in shining armor doesn’t exactly pull through for her - instead of coming himself, he sends one of his burly “men” to try to bring her back. Rather than going back to Denver with him, Jenny sends her engagement ring back to Daniel in her place. She decides to hang around in Cheyenne for a while and try to decide what to do with her life next. In the meantime, she grows to appreciate Luke, who is not as rough and dangerous as he appeared to be. He has a gentle side, particularly when he is around six-year-old Adam, that really appeals to Jenny. The physical attraction between the two is undeniable, and slowly, a shaky relationship begins to develop between them. Jenny is drawn to Adam, as well, and becomes involved in his care. Everything ambles along nicely until the final (predictable) conflict appears, involving an encounter with Daniel.
Jenny is an interesting character. She is opinionated and has a mind of her own. Her shrewd business sense and desire to open her own lingerie store were an unexpected twist. She suffers from an internal conflict. On the one hand, she is used to being a “good girl,” who always does her father’s bidding. On the other hand, she has always longed for a taste of independence and freedom, two things she experiences in Cheyenne. As her feelings for Luke grow, we see Jenny develop into her own person.
Luke is the typical tortured hero. The victim of a difficult past, he feels that he is destined to be alone forever. It is not until the end of the book that he feels confident that he has what it takes to care for Adam or Jenny. Both of these characters seemed quite immature, in general. At times it was as if I were reading about two high school students. This, combined with the “sweetness” of the story, became too much to bear at times.
There were several secondary characters, none of which were well developed. Jenny’s companion, Olivia, and Luke’s “man”, Travis engage in a romance of their own, but these characters disappear for pages at a time. Daniel is an important presence in the story, but only actually makes a brief appearance in the book. He is more of a plot device than a character, used merely as the “bad guy” to create the conflict. His character is so one-dimensional that it is almost impossible for the reader to imagine that this man was once Luke’s close friend and Jenny’s fiancé.
Overall, Luke’s Runaway Bride was mildly satisfying. Kind of like vanilla ice cream - it has its merits, but could be a lot better if you dress it up a bit. With a plot twist or two and a little more character development this would have been a much more satisfying read. However, if a predictable, low-key western historical romance is what you’re hankering for, this book just may fit the bill.