When a Texan Gambles is a marriage of convenience tale that is weighed down by an unfortunate combination of hyperbole, clunky writing, and an immature, rather nitwitted heroine. The hero, however, is a fine character who certainly deserves better.
Sarah Andrews is rescued from jail by bounty hunter Sam Gatlin when she pulls his name from a hat. Sarah and two other women have confessed to killing a man, but the sheriff can’t find the body and doesn’t want to hold them indefinitely, so they are raffled off in a “bride lottery”. Sarah’s life is a pathetic mess, anyway. An orphan, she was raised first by a mean-tempered woman who eventually gave her away to an elderly, poverty-stricken midwife. After old Granny Vee died, Sarah married a cold, unfeeling widower who insisted on selling his farm and traveling west in a wagon train. He promptly died of a fever, Sarah’s baby lived only a day, the wagon master threw her out and burned her wagon after stealing her possessions, she was threatened by an evil man named Zeb Whitaker, and it’s a good thing Sarah didn’t have a dog because I bet somebody would have shot it. This is pathos applied with a trowel.
Anyway, when Sam meets Sarah, she has but one dress and a few small items tied into a handkerchief. He buys her a serviceable wool dress, but she refuses to wear it because it reminds her of her miserable childhood, and besides, it’s not pretty. Sam is promptly attacked by a disgruntled outlaw, and Sarah pulls a “huge knife” out of his back and drives him out of town to keep him safe. They end up in a canyon, near a stream, where Sarah tries to nurse Sam back to health. Since he’s a “quick healer”, he’s fine in a week.
Out of the bushes appear three children, who claim Sam is their father. They eat enough of the provisions that Sarah must soon head back to town. Sam, who has yet to see the children and knows they can’t be his anyway, thinks Sarah is making the whole thing up. Their arrival back in town is noted by some local ruffians and Sam is shot. Sarah, thinking her new husband is dead, shows her grief by heading straight to the local mercantile and attempting to spend Sam’s money. She’s refused, which means she can’t buy the lace-trimmed dress she sees on display. Sam saves the day by showing up and buying her the dress, whereupon Sarah decides she should love him. That’s it. From now on, Sarah is in love with Sam Gatlin.
The rest of the story revolves around Sarah, Sam, and the host of baddies who are out to get him. The mystery of the children is resolved quickly, Zeb Whitaker isn’t dead after all, and Sam wants to keep her safe. Meanwhile, Sarah is attracted to Sam, but doesn’t want to sleep with him until she decides it’s okay. Sam, for his part, lusts after his “angel”.
This story was weak on virtually all counts. The premise didn’t work well (a bride lottery?) and Sarah’s characterization grated. We’re told she’s brave and strong and all that, but her actions are more akin to a spoiled sixteen-year-old. And the way she keeps dangling sex before Sam and then yanking it away, insisting that she’ll call the shots, marks her as more of a tease than a grown woman. She was, in a word, irritating.
Sam fares better, because there’s some real humanness to his character. He’s tried to do something decent, for reasons he doesn’t fully understand, and this decency comes through in his other actions. Even toward Sarah, who certainly doesn’t seem to deserve it. He deserved a better heroine.
Some of the writing was uncharacteristically clunky. I’d like to propose a moratorium on whispering, mumbling, stomping, muttering, and the like in novels. It’s cheesy. Let’s have people walk and talk instead, which is what real people do.
If you’ve been following Jodi Thomas’ western historicals, When a Texan Gambles might be an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, but I’d rate it a bad bet.