Texan's Bride

 
Luck Of The Draw
by Gail Link
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5663-1
**
Luck Of The Draw isn’t a bad book. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good one either. No, Link’s latest is the worst kind of book – a boring one.

Beau McMaster’s has made his name with the turn of a card. A high-stakes poker game nets him his latest winnings – a ranch and a saloon in a small town in Montana. Having left New Orleans after the Civil War, and with no family to speak of, he’s spent the last several years wandering. He figures his latest winnings are a way for him to settle down, and he has accumulated enough wealth to do it right.

On the same stagecoach to Montana, he meets Abigail Butler, a widow who is traveling to Heaven’s Gate to become their new schoolteacher. What Beau, and nobody else for that matter, doesn’t realize is the beautiful Mrs. Butler isn’t really a widow. Abby ran away from her privileged life in New York City, determined to become her own woman and create her own destiny. Unfortunately, Pinkerton agents looking for her have led her to move around a lot. She’s hoping this latest move will be her last.

This sounds like a conventional set-up for a western romance, and in fact could have been a pleasing, albeit predictable story. Unfortunately, the lack of any convincing conflict makes this a tedious and tiresome read.

The conflict, such as it is, might have worked if the author had spent some pages developing it. Abby is running away from her possessive and mean-spirited family. She has no desire to be her father’s chattel, and the idea that he’ll marry her off to one of his cronies makes her sick. So she runs. Her father, so enraged that his uppity daughter would disobey him, hires men to track her down. Abby’s mother isn’t much better, the very definition of cold fish. I’m sure many people like this existed in the 19th century, but Abby’s parents come off as little more than caricatures. In addition, even with Pinkerton agents on her tail, there is no sense of urgency. They’re in New York City, she’s in Montana, and the Pinkerton men serve as wallpaper, nothing more. Frankly, Abby is in no real danger – which she must realize because even though she feels a smidgen of guilt about lying to the townspeople, she doesn’t wring her hands and fret about Daddy finding her.

Link also tosses in a local villain who despises Beau and Abby. He’s the only one in this town who has any sort of moral code – and while he’s a sick individual, it’s amazing to this reviewer that he’s the only one concerned about propriety throughout the course of the story. Certainly, everyone thinks Abby is a widow, but given that she’s teaching their children, you think the good townspeople would be concerned about her spending time alone with a gambler, a saloon owner and a man who is new to town himself. There are also a couple of local prostitutes who ask Abby to tutor them. So here’s a woman not only spending time alone with a stranger, who is a gambling Southerner post Civil War, but also spending time in her home with two prostitutes. Hey the west was different – but that different?

Maybe nobody is concerned because Abby has the world’s easiest job. While she’s a schoolteacher on paper, the reader never actually sees her anywhere near the schoolhouse! In fact, there aren’t any children to speak of in this story. A nice bonus for readers tired of precocious, cutesy tots, but a little unbelievable for a story about a woman passing herself off as a schoolteacher.

Ultimately, this story takes forever to go anywhere, and there is not enough meat on the conflict to make it work. Even though she is a hunted woman, Abby’s parents are safely ensconced in New York and no real threat. Maybe if Mommy and Daddy had boarded the stagecoach themselves, it might have made the hunt more exciting. As it is, the climax is very anticlimactic, and Abby doesn’t even play a part in it. She is told what has happened, and it sinks what very little existed of the conflict like a lead balloon. One suspects the local villain was added for some punch, but since he appears so late in the story, and is one-dimensionally vile, it’s hard to see him as anything more than an annoyance.

Overall, this is one boring and disappointing read. It’s not bad per se, but it fails to light any kind of fire under the reader. The conflict is tissue paper thin, and the because of this the romance lacks any sort of tangible tension. My advice is to pass it on by.

--Wendy Crutcher


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