This one is a little unusual; it was originally published in 1987 under the title “Sweet Reckoning”, and then later released in ebook form as “Missouri Bride”. I found that a little odd, but I’m sure it happens. I’m simply pointing it out to avoid any potential confusion.
We open in 1873 St. Louis, MO and Amy Harris is desperate. Tasked with raising her little sister, Hannah, she is also responsible for providing care to their sick, cruel, and abusive mother. Their father disappeared during the Civil War, leaving the girls to fend for themselves. Amy has been stood up on three occasions by her fiancé and long-time friend, Lacy Garret, and things are looking grim for our beautiful young heroine.
Then in walks Matt Kendall, a handsome gentleman-farmer who has come to the Harris home in search of Amy’s father. There is an instant attraction between the two and Amy soon sees the prosperous soldier-turned-farmer as the answer to her prayers. She agrees to a marriage of convenience and the two wed within a few days of meeting. Matt then moves his new wife to his farm in the Missouri Ozarks. Unfortunately, they must leave Hannah behind per the wishes of her mother. (Esther Harris is using the child as insurance that Matt and Amy will continue to send her money.)
Only upon arrival does Amy realize the reality of her hasty decision; she has wed a stranger whose barely repressed violence simmers just beneath the surface of his every move and they are both keeping secrets. Much as she desires her husband, Matt’s passions—and her reaction to them—frighten her. Amy also discovers that she has no idea what is expected of her as a farmwife, but Matt is about to educate her, and not in the most gentle or tactful fashion. Needless to say, their marriage experiences a somewhat rocky start. But Amy soon finds herself more than willing to go to Matt’s bed and they are both overwhelmed by the intensity and pleasure of lovemaking. Bliss forevermore, roll credits, and all that happily-ever-after stuff, right?
Amy later learns that her husband’s demons are rooted in the Civil War, “Bloody Kansas,” and the outlaw gangs that evolved from Quantrill’s Raiders. That past comes into their lives in a more tangible way with the presence of the feared James and Younger Gangs, and Amy has to wonder if Matt wants to avenge the rekindled lawlessness, or if he is part of it. Can their love be saved or will it succumb to vendettas and hatreds? You’ll have to read to find out.
While I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either. Objectively, I was able to respect how Ms. Riley stayed true to what real life for women in this time period would have been like. She didn’t sugar coat it in roses and easy living and sweet, doting, coddling men. The story showed that through the strong, desperate language used to describe Amy’s thoughts and feelings (there was a lot of staring, studying, and miserable words used). Her decision to marry a man she just met in order to leave her mean, unstable mother and have a hope of leading a somewhat-normal, prosperous life for herself and her sister probably wasn’t unusual for that time period, either. The fact that there was attraction between Amy and Matt from the jump was a luxury not often afforded in 1800’s marriages and sure, he was heavy-handed and tactless at times, but he was never cruel or abusive. Amy probably got lucky.
As for the technicalities of the writing itself, I was a little disappointed. There’s a lot of repetition in words and actions and that lends a somewhat bland quality to it, at least for me. I had a hard time staying immersed in the story and for that reason, the occasional typo was more distracting than it likely would have been otherwise. There were a number of phrases I found clunky and unwieldy (for example: Do people really blush in resigned misery? That sounds… unlikely. And “stimulating her virgin senses in a new, enervating way”? That totally turned me off.) Commas and hyphens are used or left out seemingly at random, which makes me feel as if another round with an editor might have been a good idea. And the vacillating! Oh, the vacillating! One minute, Amy is frightened and standoffish (with good reason, considering what she’s seen), the next, she’s melting wantonly into his arms, and then she’s pushing him away in horror, with the gall to be confused and offended by his response. Both Amy and Matt react in the extreme at times and seem very hair-trigger-y in the feelings-department. I get that that’s part of the tension-building, but this—for me at least—went on waaaaay too long! Make up your minds, people!
Bottom line: Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it, and probably wouldn’t recommend it, but it was time-period accurate and I liked Hannah.
Click to purchase: Amazon
by Eugenia Riley
ReRelease Date: May 28, 2016