A Convenient Wife

Maggie's Beau

Tanner Stakes His Claim

Redemption by Carolyn Davidson
(Harl. Hist., $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-77149-5
Redemption is the sequel to the author’s The Wedding Promise published eight years ago. The hero in the first one is ranch owner Cord McPherson who hires the heroine Rachel as a housekeeper and cook. Also in residence is the hero’s brother, Jake McPherson, a Civil War veteran and double amputee. Jake was a talented musician before the War but has become an embittered recluse, shutting himself away from his music, companionship, and former girlfriend Lorena. Rachel is instrumental in bringing Jake out of self-isolation and reuniting the lovers. This was a strong subplot in the first book.

So it came as something of a surprise to read the author’s dedication where she thanks her readers. She continues, “And to those who asked why I hadn’t given Jake, a strong secondary character, a book of his own. I agreed with them, and found myself thinking often about Jake and wondering what had happened to him.”

The only way Jake could get his own book is for Lorena to get out of the way and make room for another heroine. Poor Lorena. She gave him the best years of her life, restored his will to live and make music, and gave him a son. But she’s gotta go.

Sure enough, in a brief opening prologue, Jake, his six-year-old son Jason, Cord, and Rachel are attending Lorena’s funeral.

Three years later in 1880, Alicia Merriweather (you know who she is by her name, a hunky hero would never be named Merriweather), Jason’s schoolteacher, marches to his front door in Green Rapids, Kansas. She ignores the sign on the door: No Visitors. No Peddlers. No Admittance. She knocks.

Jake eventually opens the door and orders her to go away and leave him alone. Without Lorena, he has reverted to type. He’s once again an embittered recluse who’s driven off housekeepers and cooks, keeps the drapes pulled and his piano covered and silenced. This is a hero who loves wallowing in misery.

Jason has broken windows at the school, and Alicia is insightful enough to know his actions are a cry for his father’s attention. She insists Jason return to the school and help her board over the windows. She recognizes that Jake’s isolation is having a negative impact on his son’s life and offers to help in small ways. In a relatively short time, Jake realizes that Alicia is essential to Jason’s well-being and proposes marriage. In that same short time, Alicia has fallen in love with him which is really strange because he’s surly, ill-tempered, and insulting.

Speaking as a strictly amateur psychologist, this looks to me like low self-esteem at work. Alicia is thirty, tall, statuesque, full-figured and believes herself plain. Living cooped up with an acerbic curmudgeon for the rest of her days sounds like the antithesis of a happily ever after and more like a lifetime of penance.

Nevertheless, they marry. She spends her wedding night in bed alone. She proceeds to clean up the place, fix things around the house and yard, cook great meals, reform Jason, and generally do everything except hang a “Superwoman Lives Here” sign on the wall. But Jake is still determined to live life on his own antisocial terms.

Is this all there is? Will they ever have a “real marriage?” Can Alicia convince Jake to reach for a life outside these walls?

The many readers who despair over the ubiquitous slender, gorgeous romance heroine will appreciate Alicia. One of Jake’s few redeeming qualities is that even though she towers over him in his wheelchair he sees Alicia as attractive and often tells her so. At their first meeting, however, he insults her appearance.

“Get your damn foot out of my door.” This time it was a subdued roar, delivered from a face twisted with anger. “Do I have to call the sheriff to toss you out on your fanny?” He looked her up and down. “Though unless my eyes deceive me, it might take two husky men to do the job.”

“Two husky men?” Her brow jerked upward. “More like three,” she answered crisply, “unless the blacksmith is one of them.”

What redeems Redemption is that Alicia generally gives back as good as gets and does not let Jake intimidate her. Their verbal battles are the best parts of the book. His realization that he’s loved her for a long time is more credible than Alicia’s premature conclusion. I, for one, wish her a very long life because without Alicia Jake’s second redemption might not last any longer than his first if the author’s readers persuade her to write yet another book focusing on Jake.

Cord and Rachel McPherson have significant roles in this story, but the brief synopsis in the first paragraph is all you’ll need to know to understand their relationship to Jake. Having read The Wedding Promise is unnecessary in order to enjoy its sequel. Fans of Americana romances might want to check out Redemption.

--Lesley Dunlap

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