Three sons. Aging father. Ultimatum: First son to marry and produce a grandchild gets control of the ranch. So begins the first book in the "McKettrick Cowboys" trilogy.
Since 1880's Arizona territory is not flush with eligible women, Rafe, the eldest, sends a request to the "Happy Home Matrimonial Service" to find a mail-order bride. He assumes that this is the easiest way to get a bride in a business-like fashion. He has no time for courting.
Emmeline Harding is an educated young woman living in Kansas City. While she attended the finest schools, she is not accepted by most of her peers or their families because she lives at Miss Becky's Boardinghouse. The brothel is owned and operated by her Aunt Becky who has taken care of Emmeline since she was an infant. Now that she is through school, she yearns for adventure. He aunt does not want her to ever be involved with the business, but one evening, Emmeline dresses up in one of the scandalous outfits and sneaks downstairs. She manages to avoid her aunt's notice, but attracts the attention of one of the trail bosses. He buys her drinks and before she knows it, she is drunk and he takes her upstairs to one of the rooms. The next thing she remembers is waking up in bed with a stack of money on the bedside table. Aunt Becky finds her like this and is furious.
Although Emmeline can't remember what happened to her, she believes that she is ruined. She decides she must leave and marries Rafe McKettrick by proxy through the mail-order agency. Always a dreamer about happy endings, she is disheartened when no one meets her at the stagecoach in Indian Rock, Arizona Territory. The first sight she has of her husband is of him flying out of the saloon in a bar fight. His younger brother Jeb takes her to the Triple M Ranch.
Emmeline and Rafe's early encounters are pretty rough. He just wants to be the brother who gets control of the ranch and doesn't feel very comfortable making pretty statements to ladies. Emmeline definitely has a mind of her own and does not let Rafe push her into anything. She is also afraid of how Rafe will react if he finds out about her night as a working girl.
Emmeline and Rafe are far from alone. They live in the ranch house with father Angus, brothers Jeb and Kade, and housekeeper Concepcion. There are ranch hands in the bunkhouse. Aunt Becky arrives in town, as does the trail boss from Emmeline's adventure. Numerous townspeople are also introduced. Two other relationships begin and there are a number of possible "brides" introduced for the other two McKettrick brothers.
Although the book is almost 450 pages long, I never did feel that Rafe's character was fully developed. When they had disagreements, he would either rage or turn ice cold. Not enough of his thought processes as he worked through the disagreements were given to understand him. Emmeline's insights were much better developed and the motivation for her actions was understandable. While I enjoyed the development of a number of the secondary characters, more time spent with Rafe's thoughts would have made him come alive.
Miller does have a wonderful way with her descriptions of the land and the 1880's town. Her love for Arizona's beauty is evident. She does not, however, shy away from the unpleasant aspects of the time including outhouses with rattlesnakes and the uncertainty of a squatter's life.
High Country Bride is a quick read despite the number of pages. Anyone who likes western romances will probably enjoy this one. The McKettrick family is intriguing and I do want to know what happens to the other brothers and the rest of the characters introduced.
--B. Kathy Leitle