Cheryl St. John is, hands down, my number one comfort author. Her books are the equivalent of a cold winter night, snow falling outside, wrapped in a blanket, cuddled up on the sofa, drinking a mug of hot cocoa. There is just something about her stories that rich deep down and strike an emotional cord in me. Her Colorado Man continues that tradition, although I will admit it took me some time to wrap my mind around the jaw-dropping conflict.
When Mariah was 18-years-old she found herself pregnant. The only soul she told was her grandfather, who promptly suggested she go to Chicago to attend “school.” She lived there for a year, and when she returned home with young John James, she discovered grandfather, as a way to protect her and his new grandson, had concocted a make-believe husband. He had a friend, Otto, working as a postmaster in Alaska, and asked him to come up with a name. In return, Otto would write the occasional letter “home” to keep up appearances. It’s an elaborate lie, but one Mariah agrees to. The truth isn’t an option, so she agrees to become Mrs. Wesley Burrows.
Unknown to them is that there really is a Wesley Burrows. He went to Alaska looking for gold, but quickly learned that delivering mail was a more reliable way to make money. After an accident leaves him confined to bed, his backlog of personal mail is delivered to him. Otto is no longer around to intercept them, so among his mail are letters from young John James. Reading those letters, from a young boy who desperately needs a father, causes something to break for Wes. He gets better and writes a letter to Mariah’s grandfather. He’s coming to Colorado to be the father that John James wants and needs.
As one can imagine, this news is a bit upsetting to Mariah. She had no idea Wesley Burrows was “real,” and the idea of welcoming a stranger into her life is unacceptable. Yes, using his name was wrong, but what does he want? What are his motives? She doesn’t know this guy from Adam, how can she possibly trust him? Why is he really doing this?
That’s the rub, of course – and it’s easy for the reader to understand how Mariah feels, because Wes’ decision is pretty fantastical. Not just any man would drop his whole life to become a father just because a boy needs one. However the author makes it work by explaining more about Wes. What his life has been like, the accident, and how those letters from John James gave him so much comfort that he wanted to comfort the boy in return. Admittedly he doesn’t think this plan all the way through. He thinks, “I can be this boy’s father.” He doesn’t think, “Um, but what about the boy’s mother?” That’s ultimately what gets sorted out over the course of the story.
How willing the reader is to buy into this conflict will determine how well the book will work for them. It worked fairly well for me because St. John sells it so well. It also worked thanks to how fresh and lively this setting felt to me. This is no run of the mill western. Mariah’s family is a large, lively, close-knit German clan that happens to run their own brewery. Mariah works there, as does almost every single family member. The brewery atmosphere, the trip to Denver the family takes for business, made this story feel so fresh and different compared to some of the other historical romances I’ve read this year.
At the end of the day, this story delivers exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Cheryl St. John book. Good, hard-working characters who aren’t prone to hysterics, compelling conflict, and a tenderness that runs through the romance. The plot and conflict of this story are a bit of a stretch at times, but it’s to the author’s credit that even this cynical skeptic ended up swallowing the idea. I finished the final page thinking to myself, “Sure, that could have happened. Hey, maybe it did happen? And ::sigh::, what a nice story.”
When eighteen-year-old Mariah found herself pregnant and unmarried in her small Colorado town, she disappeared. One year later, she returned with a baby—though minus the “husband” who had conveniently ventured off to Alaska’s gold fields to seek his fortune….
But now, with handsome adventurer Wes Burrows turning up and claiming to be the husband she had invented, Mariah’s lies become flesh and blood—and her wildest dreams a reality!