Bride On The Run
by Elizabeth Lane
(Harlequin Hist. #546, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29146-9
****
Do you know anyone like this? A widowed father of two, struggling with his own business trying to make ends meets, household chores, the education of his children, their emotional well being having lost their mother and not having the time, opportunity or inclination for courting (excuse me-dating). A dedicated career woman navigating the shark infested waters of a male dominated entertainment industry, negotiating salary and contracts, evading pawing hands and honing her craft. Sounds like modern problems to me. These particular problens also happened to exist about 100 or so years ago. Bride on the Run is a fine example of what a talented author can do with a been there/done that plot.

Anna DeCarlo is a talented saloon singer framed, with a lot of help from Anna herself, for the murder of her boss. She eventually winds up in the Arizona Territory the bride by proxy of Malachi Stone, a widower and father of two children, Carrie and Josh.

Anna was raised in an orphanage until age fifteen when she ran away and took control of her life. Ten years later when she meets Malachi Stone she is a mature, flawed, but capable woman who doesnít give in to difficult circumstances. The events precipitating her flight from an orphanage forge a woman who can bend but will not break. The police chief responsible for her flight is closing in on her when she answers an advertisement to be the wife of ferry operator Malachi Stone.

Both have their own agenda for needing the marriage. Anna obviously needs a place to hide, where better than on an isolated homestead, and Malachiís in-laws are having the 1880ís version of court appointed child welfare workers determine whether or not he is a fit parent. And the fact is Malachi does need help with the kids.

Malachi Stone, in spite of his unfortunate name that at first glance seems to telegraph his personality, is a hero worthy of the name in most respects. At first pass he is your usual dour, brooding, carved from granite hero, but as his story unfolds you realize there are depths to this character. However, he did commit the cardinal sin of making assumptions based on Annaís appearance. Why do some heroes assume a well dressed beautiful woman is synonymous with a whore? Is this a Western thing? Unless you are careworn, with skin like leather, built like an ox and your Sunday best is calico you are automatically a woman of low morals that couldnít possibly understand what hard work is like?

The author was very adept at making the location come alive. I could see the intensity of the colors and the majesty of the canyons where Malachi makes his home. The success of this story however, lies strictly within the characters and the events that shaped their lives

The marriage of convenience is a familiar plot device and itís familiar for good reason. There are few better circumstances that allow an author the setting to show people getting to know one another and falling in love, by virtue of living together and unable to avoid interaction. Add to that two distinct and equally strong main characters and good secondary characters and what you get is a memorable and satisfying read.

The relationship Anna builds with Carrie is gradual and realistic and the scene where she comes to Carrieís rescue is one of the most moving Iíve read in quite some time. Malachi having a talk about sex and relationships with his son, Josh, is so real and endearingly funny, I could see any parent trying to explain the shades of gray to a child who still sees black and white.

I had just a few quibbles with this story: as Malachiís true nature becomes clear it makes the initial reactions unworthy of the character. Why go to the trouble of building a character with layers and then force them to react the same way the cardboard cutouts would? And I would like to have known more about his first wifeís parents who Malachi holds responsible for her death. In spite of these issues I still recommend Bride on the Run because you have total package characters that linger on long after youíve read the last word.

--Wilda Turner


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