|Tanzy Gallant is a young woman looking for a fresh start. After a senseless feud leaves her father and four brothers dead, Tanzy leaves Kentucky so she wonít be forced to marry her odious cousin. She lands in St. Louis, where the only work she can find is in a gambling hall. Never mind that her virtue is intact, she has no chance of landing a decent man now. So when a friend writes and tells her all about her adventures as a mail-order bride, Tanzy decides to give it a whirl.
Sheís to marry Russ Tibbolt, a successful rancher who lives outside of Boulder Gap in Colorado Territory. His letters suggest heís a nice, hardworking man who will do right by her. And he gets off on the right foot Ė by chasing down some bandits set on robbing the stagecoach sheís traveling on.
Being two sensible people, Russ and Tanzy decide she should stay in town for a week. That way they can meet, talk and get to know each other better before making it official. However, it soon becomes abundantly clear to Tanzy that sheís walked right into a situation she was trying to escape from in the first place. The wealthiest man in town, Stocker Pullet, has it in for Russ. Seems Russ killed Stockerís younger brother, and spent time in prison for it. Still nursing a grudge, and envious of the prime land that Russ bought upon his release, Stocker is determined to run him out of town.
The Reluctant Bride is really a mixed bag. Tanzy is easily the highlight for a good portion of the story. So often in Romance Novel Land strong heroine is code for secret service agent, international spy or police officer. Tanzy is strong just by being herself. Where she came from women were treated little better than slaves, were expected to take care of the home, have a horde of babies and keep their mouths shut. Tanzy does not want that for herself. She wants a husband who will respect her and her opinions. She is also tired of senseless violence perpetuated by petulant men set on having their own way. Itís rather fun to watch the perplexed Russ try to figure this woman out.
The problem here is the conflict in general Ė namely Russ who doesnít trust women at all. Why? Well this is a romance novel, so it must be because his mother and sister were lying, cheating, no-good whores who didnít care for anyone but themselves. Or as Russ puts it during an argument with Tanzy:
ďItís all our fault that we donít show women proper respect even though the woman makes a whore of herself, uses her beauty to destroy men, uses her physical weakness to tyrannize her family.Ē
Unfortunately the next paragraph does not feature Tanzy pulling a derringer from her skirts and shooting this guy between the eyes.
And really thatís what makes The Reluctant Bride rather tedious by the end. The author beats the reader over the head with the conflict. Tanzy cares for Russ but wonít be part of a feud. Russ doesnít respect or listen to her opinions. Russ canít trust Tanzy because sheís a woman. The entire town thinks Russ is a lying, murdering, thief who is rustling their cattle. Rinse and repeat.
Itís a shame really, because their courtship has some fine moments. In many ways Russ and Tanzy start out as friends first, lovers second. And there are some tender moments shared between the two of them through letters that Russ writes to Tanzy. Then the conflict spin cycle starts up again and my eyes began to glaze over.
Greenwood knows how to tell a good story, and he certainly can write interesting characters. Tanzy in particular is really fantastic until the conflict begins to sound like a broken record. And heaven deliver readers from heroes determined to hate all women because of something their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother, former schoolteacher, college roommate, or second cousin did. All in all, it would be best to proceed with caution.