A new Cheryl St. John Harlequin Historical tends to be a cause for celebration for me. She is a marvelously consistent writer. She’s delivered enough times (for me at any rate) that when I settle into one of her stories, I know my chances are very good that it’s going to give me exactly what I expect it to. Her Wyoming Man is no exception to this rule, well at least until the ending. But more on that in a moment.
Ella Reed was raised to be a courtesan. Her mother was a prostitute, and Ella was a beautiful child. So the madam of the brothel spent a lot of time and money investing into Ella. She speaks fluent French. She plays an exquisite piano. She knows how to make a man happy. And that’s her job, to make one man very happy. One man has exclusive rights to Ella because he’s very wealthy. So while the other girls in the brothel get knocked around by cowboys and outlaws, Ella is the hothouse flower. Until one night when her man tells her he’s moving back East with his family. There will be no one there to protect her anymore. But the man in question does give her money and the advice that she should run away, while she still has her looks. When one of the girls shows her a clipping from a newspaper about mail-order brides wanted in Wyoming? Ella sees it as her chance for something she’s never had – a normal life.
Nathan Lantry is a widower with three young children. He’s well enough off that he has hired help, so he’s not terribly hot to trot to remarry – except that he has political ambitions. Having a lovely wife on his arm certainly isn’t going to be a determent. He’s not interested in any of the potential brides that have just landed in Sweetwater, Wyoming until he sees Ella. She’s breathtakingly lovely. Smart, accomplished, so what if she’s not much of a cook and isn’t terribly familiar with children. She’ll learn in time, plus – he has hired help. Before you can say Big Secret, these two are tying the knot. But what will happen when Ella’s past comes calling?
What I like about St. John’s westerns is that it is typically the heroine with the Big Secret. Some part of her past that serves as the conflict. The hero tends to be a nice guy who is blindsided when the truth comes to light. The courtesan angle is a good one and allows our heroine to still be somewhat innocent. She’s lived her whole life preparing for one goal – to be a kept woman. She’s traded that in for being a married woman – but her new husband gives her the freedom that she never had living in the brothel. Little things that other women might take for granted. Every day is a day of new discoveries.
The romance here is gentle and sweet, with enough sensual longing that it’s really fantastic when these two finally succumb. Granted, I found it slightly odd that Nathan doesn’t really question Ella’s lack of innocence in this area until after the Big Secret is revealed – but hey, he’s a guy falling love. You can overlook a lot when you’re falling in love. What I can’t quite overlook here is the ending. It’s very sugary, and frankly, I find it unbelievable. Maybe if Nathan and Ella live out in the middle of nowhere – but they’re in an established town. A civilized, established town that earlier in the book had snubbed a “fallen woman,” and Ella witnessed said snubbing.
However, while the resolution to the conflict doesn’t work for me on the grand scale – the romance, in general, does. I like Ella. I like Nathan. I like that they find each other and are together. It doesn’t light my world on fire, but it is a very pleasant read, a gentle way to entertain myself while stuck on an airplane. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.
Courtesan Ella Reed escapes dangerous city life to rural Wyoming and says “I do” to a marriage of convenience! But she may not live the life of a respectable woman for long if she can’t keep her past—and her heart—under lock and key.
For a self-made man with political aspirations, love is trivial in a paper marriage. Nathan Lantry needs a wife to secure his election and manage his rowdy little boys. Yet he can’t stop wanting more from his irresistible new bride. Then her secrets start to unravel….