Twin sisters say "I do" in the Wild West!
SURPRISE BRIDE FOR THE COWBOY by Lauri Robinson
Mary McCary never wanted to be a mail-order bride, but falling off the Oak Grove train into Steve Putnam's lap changes everything... Could he be the cowboy to tempt her down the aisle?
Good book. The story opens with a prologue, showing Mary and Maggie in jail in Ohio. They have been arrested for selling their "tonic" without a permit. They are given a choice of staying in jail or becoming mail-order brides in a small town in Kansas. There really isn't any other logical choice, so they end up on a train bound for Oak Grove, Kansas, with several other potential brides.
Mary has no intention of marrying anyone. The first thing she does when the train arrives in Oak Grove is sneak out a rear door, planning to hide out somewhere until her latest batch of tonic is ready to bottle, and she can sell enough to move on. Things don't go quite as she planned and she ends up hired as a cook on Steve Putnam's ranch for a month.
Steve has no plans ever to marry. He saw what the hard life did to his mother and father and won't put himself through that pain. When his regular cook is injured, Steve needs to find someone to take his place. He's not too happy about hiring Mary at first, but it isn't long before he's glad he did.
I enjoyed the development of Steve and Mary's relationship. Sparks fly between them from the start. Mary needs a place to hide from the bride-hunting men of the town where she can also earn the money she needs to move on. She is feisty and independent, also kind and warm-hearted. Steve is honorable and stubborn. He needs a cook but suspects that Mary is going to be trouble. Over the next thirty days they move from adversaries to friends, to more as they get to know each other. I loved watching them butt heads over her tonic while at the same time they couldn't stop thinking about each other. It was fun to see the way that each got flustered by the other's presence and argued with themselves about what they were feeling. The sparks burned hotter as the time came closer when Mary would have to make a decision. The ending was fun as they were helped along by a rattlesnake and a kick in the pants delivered by the doctor.
TAMING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE by Kathryn Albright
Running from trouble, Maggie McCary signs up to be a mail-order bride. She doesn't intend to actually marry...until she shares one sensational kiss with Jackson Miller!
Maggie and Mary get separated when Maggie wants to stay in town and take advantage of the accommodations being provided for the brides. She has no more intention than Mary does of marrying, but she wants to be comfortable while earning the money to move on. When she realizes that Mary is missing, Maggie worries about her. She also feels bad about their argument but has to trust that her sister will be alright.
Maggie is a bit more sensitive than Mary and feels bad about being portrayed as one of the brides when she has no intention of marrying. She tries very hard to avoid leading on any of the men who pay attention to her. I liked that honorable side of her. She is also determined and clever and finds a way to promote her tonic that also keeps it fairly quiet. The only problem she has is her unexpected fascination with Jackson Miller.
Jackson is the town carpenter. He came to Oak Grove after his fiancée ran off with his best friend and he needed a new start. His brother was the preacher, and Jackson came to help build the church. His brother died before the church was finished, but Jackson promised to stay until it was done. Once it is, he plans to move on. Those plans are upended when he encounters Maggie.
I enjoyed seeing Maggie and Jackson get to know each other. Because neither intends to marry they think they are safe, but Fate has other ideas. Jackson is a bit closed off because of his past, but every time he encounters Maggie her vivacity shines a little more light into the dark corners of his life. There is also an attraction simmering between them, and when Jackson seizes the opportunity to kiss Maggie, the results are life-altering for them both. Neither can deny the effect on their hearts, but there are obstacles. Jackson is not one of the men who paid for a chance at a bride, so he isn't technically eligible to court her. Jackson also makes no secret of his disapproval of her tonic. Mary has the mail-order bride contract hanging over her head and the reason she had to sign it. Things look especially bad when she gets thrown in jail for selling her tonic and trying to evade her contract. The sheriff provided a unique and effective solution to the problem.
I liked the epilogue, which wrapped up the courting period quite nicely. I'm looking forward to reading more stories about Oak Grove's mail-order brides, as only five of the twelve promised have arrived.