Dora Sutton has lost everything. Gently reared, she suddenly finds herself destitute after her father's death, betrayed by her fiancé, and shunned by her former friends. In desperation, she answers and ad for a mail-order bride. When she arrives at St. Bride’s Island, no one is at the dock to meet her. She is directed to the home of Grey St. Bride. Nervous and still a bit seasick, she walks to his house.
Grey St. Bride owns the island. He has spent several years on his master plan to create a stable community for his domain. The most difficult has been attracting women who can stand the rough conditions, will marry one of his men, and stay on the island. Grey has total charge of everything. That includes sending back any woman he believes will not suit.
He tells Dora that she is too pretty and tells her to leave on the afternoon boat. His first love left him for his brother when he asked her to move to the island, so he believes that any woman who is too pretty will not work on his island.
Devastated, Dora heads back to the dock. As she passes a small house not far from St. Bride's, she hears a feeble voice calling for help. She finds elderly Emmet Meeks, who has fallen off a ladder and badly injured his ankle. She helps him into his house and doctors him the best she can. Emmet is unique on the island. He is the only man who married one of the mail-order brides and stayed on the island. Because of that, St. Bride gave him land and the house. He is now a widower, but still owns the land.
Emmet offers Dora a place to stay and she eagerly agrees to stay and help him. Over the next few weeks, he gently encourages her and teaches her how to survive on her own, much to St. Bride's consternation. He can't understand why she infuriates him, while winning over everyone else in the community. She disturbs his well-order plans!
The best part of this book is the relationship between Emmet and Dora. The worse part is the mostly non-relationship between Dora and Grey. For more than two-thirds of the story, he is only an occasional presence. When he is around Dora, he is mockingly superior or smugly sarcastic or stumblingly tongue-tied. He has that common romance hero syndrome: the-pretty-girl-betrayed-me-so-all-pretty-girls-are-bad.
Dora holds her own. She musters the strength to face awful obstacles. She keeps on plugging away, despite a number of missteps. When Grey tries anything he can to get in her way, she does not back down and keeps going. The explanation for the two of them getting together is that they have "chemistry." I had a hard time believing that final product would be a happily ever after.
As the title indicates, more mail-order brides arrive. Several of them band together with Dora and try to take care of themselves. These efforts are not well thought out and just don't seem consistent with the person that Dora has become. Even the gossipy woman from Dora's past who could tell everyone Dora's big secret seemed like a lame effort to throw in a little more conflict toward the end.
The time elements of the story are problematic. I never got a good sense of how much or how little time had passed in some of the episodes. This made for an uneven pace. The only part of the book that felt realistic because of this problem was the time Dora and Emmet spent together.
Oh, a side note to Harlequin: The spine of the book classifies this as a Western. The North Carolina Outer Banks, even in 1899, are not in the west.
--B. Kathy Leitle