Luke's Runaway Bride

The Midwife's Secret by Kate Bridges
(Harl. Historical #644, $5.25, R) 0-373-29244-9
A divorced midwife whose main mode of transportation is a bicycle doesn't sound that unusual today, but in 1888 western Canada, the divorce is scandalous and the bicycle riding is suspicious. Set in the town of Banff, Alberta, immediately before and during the grand opening of the still-famous Banff Springs Hotel, this story of a sawmill owner/builder/woodworker and the midwife brings together two good-hearted people who are both near the edge of ruin.

Amanda Ryan loves children and always wanted a big family with her husband. When her first pregnancy went very wrong and she lost not only the baby but her uterus as well, her husband divorced her for being barren. Not long afterward, he remarried and his new wife soon became pregnant. Amanda's physician grandfather had trained her in midwifery, so after his death, she decides to relocate with her grandmother to a place where people do not know about her divorce and where she will not be around her ex-husband's new family. She purchases a parcel of land in Banff, site unseen, from Mr. Finnigan. He recommends that she contract with Tom Murdock, his partner in the local sawmill, to build her a home.

Amanda visits Tom at the sawmill on one of the worst days of Tom's life. He has just discovered that Finnigan has disappeared with all of the money in the sawmill's account, his fiancée, Clarissa has left him, and Amanda has a registered deed to a piece of property sold to her by Finnigan that is really Tom's. When the government clerk confirms that her deed is legal, Tom is furious and takes some of it out on Amanda. He realizes that he will have to build her home on the disputed land so that he can have enough money coming in to pay the sawmill staff and to continue helping out his two brothers and elderly father.

Tom and Amanda are both big-time caregivers. With her meager amount of money, Amanda includes additional rooms in her new house plan so that she can take care of orphaned children until she can find good adoptive homes. When she hears of two orphaned children, a brother and sister on their way to an orphanage, she convinces them to stay with her. Tom works many extra hours to find money to keep paying his staff and to support his family. Both of them, however, are leery of personal connections. Amanda cannot imagine a man wanting her when he discovers she will not be able to have his children. Clarissa had often complained about Tom's long hours and lack of a professional career, so he feels he must not have a lot to offer a woman.

Amanda initially tells everyone that she is a widow because of the stigma of divorce. Tom is upset when he discovers that she is divorced, especially since he is very attracted to her. While I understood her reluctance to tell most people, I didn't understand why she didn't tell Tom the reason for the divorce when he confronted her. He had always wanted several children, so he has to work through his feelings about this development much later. It seemed like an unnecessary misunderstanding.

There is a wonderful sense of place in the vivid descriptions of the beauty of the area and the reality of a small town struggling to grow. The secondary characters such as Amanda's grandmother, Tom's father and brother, the two orphans, and even Tom's dog Wolf are integral to the story and I cared what happened in their lives.

I enjoyed the unusual setting and situations presented and certainly feel Tom and Amanda deserved their happy ending. I also now want to visit Banff and see if it is still as beautiful as described.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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