The Doctor's Wife

Gunslingerís Bride

Joe's Wife

The Mistaken Widow

Sweet Annie

The Truth About Toby

The Tenderfoot Bride
by Cheryl St. John
(Harl. Hist., $5.25, G) ISBN 0-373-29279-1
It has been a long time since I have read a romance that has left me feeling warm and happy when I closed the book. The Tenderfoot Bride is a well-written, enjoyable and endearing story of a woman finding herself and the man who supports her in doing so.

Linnea McConaughy comes west to be a cook and housekeeper on a ranch in Colorado. She is a widow, has no money, no prospects and is carrying a baby. Her dead husband, who abused her, had the good grace to leave her with child before he got killed. She hopes to work as long as she can, saving for the time when she will have her child. Linnea has been abused her whole life, first by her father and then by her husband. She looks forward to loving her child, knowing he or she will love her in return.

Will Tucker takes one look at the woman his sister hired to help him on his ranch and is furious. Expecting an older and experienced widow woman who can handle the hardships on a ranch, he finds himself with a young woman who looks like a good wind will blow her down. Not only that, she shies away from him every time he blusters.

He decides to send her packing the very next day. Linnea decides she owes him for her room and board, so she cooks the best meal the men have eaten in a long time. On the journey back to town, she cries in her sleep, and this tears at Willís heart, thinking she is mourning her husband. He agrees to give her a chance. She has one month to prove she can handle the job.

Linnea excels at being a housekeeper, cook, and washerwoman and takes to the ranch life like she was born to it. What she doesnít know she finds out from the right sources. One source is Willís stepmother who lives on the ranch. Aggie is elderly and canít do what she used to. She is feisty and her relationship with Will is one of caring covered up by arguing and bickering. But Aggie sees the value in Linnea and helps her all she can.

Another source Linnea turns to is one of the ranch hands, Cimarron. She is sent to town with a list of supplies to buy, and canít read the list. Her father, then her husband refused to allow her to go to school and learn. She feels inferior. Cimarron offers to teach her to read at night, but Linnea decides they need to hide this from Will. She equates his anger and bark as being the same as her father. But Will surprises her - when he finds out, he encourages her.

When Will learns Linnea is pregnant, he is furious. He figures this is another reason Linnea canít handle the job. He agrees to let her stay until after the baby is born.

Will learns about himself as he gets to know Linnea. He realizes that his dream of owning his ranch is only half the picture. He starts to enjoy the soft touches she brings to life and slowly discovers his tender side. It has always been there, he just never figured it was important.

Linnea starts to realize her worth. She has courage, and slowly discovers she is someone with things to share and skills that she never knew she had. Her awakening is a joy to watch. She realizes that she has found a home here. She has made friends with all the hands and with Will too. When she and Will start acknowledging their attraction with kisses, Linnea realizes there is more to lovemaking then force and control.

Will is the kind of cowboy that any woman can appreciate. He is good with horses and cows, he cares about his men and longs for the simple things in life. He shows his feelings for his niece and nephew and knows this side of him doesnít diminish him as a man. Yet he is patient with Linnea, sensing she needs to make up her own mind. And his actions are some of the most romantic for any hero I have read. When he takes down her hair and kisses her, I could almost feel the meltdown.

There is a nice little side story about Willís foreman and sister that serves as the means to help Linnea see what her choices might be. Will's sister is a spirited woman, but her character is developed enough that she is more than just a caricature.

What brings the story to life is St. Johnís depiction of life on a ranch. Details are there and the picture comes to life, yet it is woven into the story without sounding like a documentary. The process of making soap is as eye-opening for me as it was for Linnea. The feeling of routine and naturalness that is portrayed as Linnea goes through her day from chore to chore makes the life seem normal. The harshness to life is depicted as day to day and no one seems to act as if it is more or less than expectedÖit just is.

The Tenderfoot Bride is a rich tale of life on a ranch, but it is one of the most tender romances I have read in a long time. Not long ago there was a discussion among TRR reviewers about what makes a good romance. This book has all the right components for me.

--Shirley Lyons

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