by Beth Williamson, historical (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $3.50, ISBN 1-59998-679-5
Branded is the first of three short stories that will be incorporated in an upcoming trade paperback anthology called Leather & Lace. It is also being sold separately in electronic form. Leather & Lace is all about hot love with hotter cowboys, by the way, in case you have this impression that we are talking about a BDSM thing.
When she was five, Emma Radcliff announced to all who would listen that she was going to marry the neighbor Rafe Sinclair. Fifteen years later, her childish prediction comes to pass, although not in the way she expects the happy occasion to be. After all, her father pretty much handed her off to Rafe without telling her of the happy day until the necessary papers are signed. Rafe needs to marry, you see, because his grandfather had set in motion that Blasted Will Plot Device. I'm sure you can guess what kind of will I am talking about here. Emma understandably is not pleased with her upcoming nuptials.
The rest of the story is predictable. Emma already has a crush on Rafe for so long, so it's just a matter of time before she succumbs despite all her lip service protests about not wanting to consummate the marriage. Rafe doesn't want to marry but one look at the former tomboy turned luscious babe and he starts paying close attention to her. The two of them realize that things ain't so bad when they are naked and in bed together so they may as well go ahead and get shackled.
It's a familiar story but the thing is, there is nowhere in this story that I get a decent explanation as to why Rafe can't talk to Emma beforehand to explain his situation and ask her to marry him. He knows that she was a handful when she was younger, so I don't know how he expects her to dutifully go along with her father's orders to marry him. Branded is therefore one of the bizarre stories where things just happen without any good explanation. It is as if the author is expecting me to use my familiarity with this overused storyline to fill in the blanks.
Branded is a painless read and the characters are on the whole a pleasantly inoffensive bunch, but with it being very predictable and in need of more depth in the characters and storyline, Branded is also a most forgettable story.
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