Letter to a Lonesome Cowboy

A Montana Man

The Secret Daughter

A Willing Wife

 
Hired Bride by Jackie Merritt
(Silhouette, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN0-373-65041-8
***
The “Fortunes of Texas” series has finally come to an end. Baby Bryan has been returned to his parents; Ryan and Lily are finally going to wed; and all of the assorted Fortune cousins, their friends and family, have had their happily ever afters. I don’t know whether to be sad or relieved!

As TRR’s official “Fortune” reviewer, I have diligently traced the assorted ups and downs of this rich Texas family. I have also, on more than one occasion, indicated my disappointment with the overarching scenario which has tied these twelve books together. Still, I have mostly enjoyed my excursion into the lives of the rich and unfortunate and the final installment is a pleasant enough tale.

Hired Bride recounts the romance of Zane Fortune, the last unwed male of the family. Zane is quite a ladies’ man and the incessant marrying of his relatives has made him very nervous. It doesn’t help that his sisters seem determined that he join everybody else in this amazing state of marital bliss. So when he has to attend yet another Fortune wedding, he decides he needs camouflage. His first idea was to take his secretary to the nuptial, implying that they have become an item. But she can’t go. So he offers the job to Gwen Hutton, the owner of Help Mates, a company that provides all sorts of services to those too busy to worry about such things as washing their dogs.

Gwen is a widow with three young children. She’s not happy with the offer, but she needs the money. So she dresses herself up and heads for the ranch with Zane. Needless to say, the entire Fortune clan is very interested in the young woman whom Zane has brought home to meet the family. What’s more significant is the fact that Zane is interested in Gwen. But Gwen isn’t interested in Zane, at least not much.

We have here a classic tale of a man who has always been pursued by women and who has always avoided those with marriage on their mind becoming intrigued by the one woman who resists his advances. Gwen is attracted to Zane; he’s only rich, handsome and charming. But she simply can’t imagine that he would be interested in a woman who drives a beat-up van, lives in a small, cluttered house, and struggles to support her three children.

Interestingly, Hired Bride departs slightly from norm of these kinds of stories. Yes, Zane doesn’t mind when Gwen brings her three kids plus two more to a barbecue at the ranch. Yes, Zane shows both concern and considerable presence of mind when the little girl gets hurt. But he doesn’t, as is usually the case, go ga-ga over Gwen’s kids. Also interestingly, this kind of bothered me. Maybe I’m simply too used to the formula, but I really felt that if devoted mother Gwen was going to get involved, there should have been more indication that Zane would make a good father. And to think I often complain about this aspect of this particular scenario. We readers can be contrary.

It’s always fun to watch a confirmed bachelor meet his fate, and Hired Bride is no exception. Gwen’s reluctance to become one of Zane’s conquests, even after a night of incredible passion, is completely understandable. Zane’s gradual comprehension that this is relationship is different from those in his past is well drawn, as is his confusion about his feelings.

Hired Bride is a completely acceptable ending to the “Fortunes of Texas” saga. But wait! Who is this man who appears at the end of the story? Are there more Fortune books in our future? You betcha! And I, along with thousands of others, will undoubtedly following whichever Fortunes’ fortunes are covered in the next mini-series, “Fortune’s Children: The Grooms.”

--Jean Mason


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