Miranda Bennett comes home at last to Freedom Valley, pregnant and with a wedding ring on her finger. Gabriel Deerhorn, her teenage sweetheart, expected that. She was too smart and independent to stay in his small corner of the world forever. He wonders why sheís back and staying in her childhood home. Then he finds out she is about to miscarry and that she isnít married. His old protective instincts about Miranda kick in and he tells the people of the valley that it was his child and he wants to marry her. Then he takes her to his mountain home to recover and to go through a kind of trial marriage.
That is more complicated than one would think. Freedom Valley apparently has some odd customs about courtship.. A local womenís council decides whether the courtship can happen and a woman is supposed to court the man. Hmmm. Well, now wait a minute. Maybe those customs arenít all that bad.
Miranda is hurt over her motherís recent death, her fiancťís rejection and then the loss of her child. She is angry and confused and she takes it all out on Gabriel. Later, when she recovers, she goes from being resentful that he would take care of everything for her to resentful that he would have lied about loving her all these years. But Miranda isnít all bad. Despite some sulking, she has more energy than many heroines Iíve read recently. It was gratifying when she gets to slug her former fiancť in the jaw. You go, girl!
This story has potential. There is more plot here than many of the shorter category novels Iíve read in the past few months. The plot hangs together, too, for the most part. But there are so many problems! For one, it was hard to believe. I kept thinking something had to be modern in this world - the quaint old customs of the past ought to be able to fit in somewhat neatly with the present day where (gasp) women might just move in with a man to try out marriage and then ask him to marry her. But this was so unreal a world that I kept waiting for it to all disappear like Brigadoon or some fairy tale.
And then there is the writing style. I can understand that Gabriel speaks formally when he is moved. Miranda comments on that a few times. The problem is that everything is formal and commented on several times. And while a few passive sentences are poetic, many passive sentences are . . . passive. I donít know if that was meant to add to the dream-like quality of the story and setting, but it kept me struggling to make it to the end without falling asleep.
I was torn with this book. The book is fairly complex and the characters have several interesting facets to them, but Iíve also read better. That makes it a very solid three hearter.