I recently compared another Western romance I read to Goin' South (1978), but this one is even more similar! It's about three women/friends named Bailee, Sarah, and Lacy. Bailee has murdered a man, Sarah is sick, and people think Lacy is a witch on account of her smart mouth. They're kicked out of their wagon train and left all alone on the trail when they encounter a horrible criminal who wants to assault them and take their wagon and maybe even kill them. Well, Bailee bashes him over the head with a piece of wood, but that only gets them out of the frying pan and into the fire, because when the law comes along, they're all tried for murder!
But there is a shortage of ladies in town, so the sheriff decides that he'll have a bride auction instead. All of them draw names out of a hat where the men in town have put down who they are and what they want out of a wife and each of them gets to choose that way, real democratic-like. Bailee ends up with a man named Carter, a tortured, brooding man who doesn't say much. It's pretty clear that Carter is incredibly socially awkward-- he's never been with a woman and has some huge hang-ups about interacting with others-- but to his surprise, Bailee doesn't seem to mind him much and quickly settles into his home.
This is such a cute romance. It's everything I love about Jude Deveraux actually in that the author has written some exceptionally strong heroines with real personalities whose behavior still fits in with the zeitgeist of the times. I loved the friendship between the women, the lack of slut-shaming, and Carter's backstory-- oh my gosh, what a great character. I don't normally love beta heroes, but when I DO, it's usually because they're tortured and tragic and strong in the face of adversity. What happened to him was really sad and I loved that an event happened in the story that allowed him to use the skills he developed when he was young in a display of strength and redemption. It was so good.
I'm giving this four stars because it feels like it was a little slower in the second half than it was in the first and I did find myself skimming a little bit. That said, Carter was a lovely hero and Bailee surprised me in a good way, and I liked the time the author spent developing the secondary characters (a must in a small-town setting). I used to think I didn't like Westerns but it's quickly becoming my go-to genre! I will definitely be checking out more books from this author.
4 out of 5 stars