The Texan's Wager
by Jodi Thomas, historical (2002)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13400-7


Now that Pamela Morsi fancies herself a contemporary women's fiction author, if Jodi Thomas plays her cards right she may just step into the void left by Ms Morsi's departure in the Western romance subgenre. The Texan's Wager starts off weak and there is a separation between the hero and the heroine late in the story that annoys me, but The Texan's Wager remains one of the sweetest romances I've read these last few months.

Like all Westerns nowadays, it just have to put in that "Downtrodden Heroine Ends Up Being The Best Mother Ever to Stray Brats!" thing, but what the heck, I'm okay with it because Bailee Moore (the heroine) and Carter McCoy (the hero) are just so adorable.

Three women, Bailee and two Romance Heroines in the very Far-Seeing Jodi Thomas' Upcoming Books, have just been abandoned by the folks in their wagon train for various silly reasons. Our three heroines wail and whine and gasp their way to Texas, upon which they kill a bastard villain in self-defense.

All's good, right? No, Bailee announces that they must tell the sheriff what they have done, even when nobody actually witnessed their conking the bastard to hell. So there they go, three women with dubious reputations and with no means for legal self-defense (and one of them sickly and near-death to boot), throwing themselves to the law, which we all know is very fair in late 19th century Wild Wild West, all in the name of being Good, Virtuous Women. I'm sure if these women hold their breath and lose one more brain cell, they'll be braindead vegetables by then.

Unsurprisingly, the sheriff tosses these women's asses to jail. If I'm the judge, I'll hang them all for the crime of being unforgivably stupid, but hey, that's just me, a lovely, vivacious, beautiful, and drop dead intelligent woman as opposed to being a stupid romance heroine. To get rid of these women, he decides to raffle them off to men who want them as brides. You write your name on a paper and drop it into a hat, and if you're called, you get yourselves a wife.

Of course, since all three women are supposed to be romance heroines, in this case, there's no danger of them being wedded to smelly, brutal, illiterate, fat, and ugly kobolds now, is there? I yawn and pick my nostrils.

Carter MacKoy is a man whom nobody in town likes much. Due to a trauma in his past, he prefers to keep to himself and come to town only to obtain necessary supplies. But somehow he writes his name and "Be my wife, all my life" on a slip of paper and adds it to the raffle. Lucky him, he gets a new wife that day - Bailee.

Only then do Bailee finally show some brainpower, as she slowly learns that her silent, seemingly distant husband is in fact a noble and good man underneath his gruff exterior. She is the kind of heroine Carter needs: an understanding wife, a good cook, a loving mother, and a lusty bedmate all in one. Carter is my kind of guy: he has a pretty horrid past, but he never lets himself be a victim. He and Bailee soon come to a very nice understanding, and watching them slowly fall in love (without fighting it) is a real pleasure. The author really knows how to make the simple act of kissing oh-so-romantic.

Carter, by the way, is really inexperienced and naive in a rather guileless and charming way. When he stumbles into a bordello, he really has no idea what those ladies are doing in those skimpy clothes (he figures they must be very poor and in need of money). But he's far from a stupid man, just a very shy one, and when he flexes his muscles in some superhero actions late in the story, I am won over. Here is Clark Kent, handsome and shy, a superman with hidden hurt and demons who saves the day selflessly because of love, and I'm in love.

Things really get busy once the man Bailee believes she and the other two gals have killed turns up alive and well, and this is sometime in between Bailee and Carter trying to protect an orphan from evil outlaws. All these conflicts result in a significantly lengthy separation between those two lovebirds while letting each flex his or her muscles and play superhero in each of his or her special way. Bullets fly, people get hurt, lots of yee-haw stuff here. I didn't know if Jodi Thomas has ever written anything this busy before in her books.

The Clint Eastwood antics make some fine reading in their own right - with a man like Carter really shining as a reluctant hero, how can I resist? - but they push Bailee and Carter's slowly developing romance in the background, and I get rather annoyed.

Nonetheless, a really winning hero and an intelligent heroine who is his worthy match in a decent plot makes this book a good read. The author's taking the time to make every kiss, every gentle exchange of words, and every longing glance throb with romantic tension, however, make The Texan's Wager a really good read. Shame about the silly premise at the beginning and the rather distracting action scenes late in the story.

Rating: 88


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