This review of Bride for McCain by Mary Burton was first published at The Romance Reader in 2000. I rated it 3-Hearts (C range) with a MPAA content rating of "PG."
Jessica Tierney wasn’t happy about returning to Sacramento to begin with, and now she’s on the run. Returning from boarding school for the reading of her late father’s will she learns that she is to be the sole beneficiary. Of course, there’s a catch: she has to marry her father’s business partner, William Perry, within 30 days and produce an heir within 2 years. Otherwise, all of her father’s money will go to the Saint Bridget’s Orphanage in San Francisco.
William is an odious creature who is determined to get what’s coming to him. Jessica manages to escape from his clutches and hurriedly gets to the train station. Unfortunately, the train isn’t going to leave until one late passenger arrives, a Miss Emma Grimes, who has been hired as a school teacher for Prosperity, Colorado. Jessica is desperate, so she claims to be Miss Grimes and boards the train to freedom.
Of course, her deceit soon snowballs when she meets her future employer, Ross McCain. He is determined to bring education to Prosperity, and soon Jessica finds herself not only keeping up with her charade, but signing a contract.
Ross McCain is more than surprised to see Jessica Tierney. After losing the first two teachers to marriage, he was determined to hire an old spinster. But when he meets Jessica, he knows it’s all over. When the single men in town get a look at her, they’ll go back on their promises to not court the only eligible woman in town. The only way to keep the new teacher is if Ross marries her himself, but will Jessica be willing? And will Ross be able to remain aloof when he’s so drawn to his beautiful new employee?
A Bride for McCain could have been a stand out western romance, but one thing kept holding it back: the hero. Ross McCain is a take charge kind of guy, which is almost a necessity for a western, but he’s a major bully. Just because he built Prosperity with his money and mining business, he feels it gives him free reign to run the residents’ lives, and that includes Jessica. He never asks her what she feels, or what she wants, but instead tells her. Jessica spends the entire novel getting railroaded by Ross.
Normally, a bully hero would sour me on a book as a whole, but Burton saves what could have been a disaster with Jessica’s character. Granted, Jessica weaves herself into a web of lies and drags a whole town along for the ride, but she spends a great deal of time wrestling with her conscience. She knows what she is doing is wrong, but she can’t seem to find a way out, and Ross doesn’t exactly make telling the truth easy. She’s also incredibly feisty, and while Ross bullies her she does her best to stand up for herself.
The secondary characters are also well written, most notably Ross’s “maid,” Peg. Not a maid in the old-fashioned sense, but an observant and tough woman who essentially runs the whole household. There are also an array of townsfolk that contribute to adding the small town feel of the story.
Mary Burton’s debut historical romance is not without merit and shows quite a bit of promise. But a leading man who bullies his love interest just didn’t appeal this reader.
Wendy Looks Back: Burton is writing romantic suspense these days but she got her start writing westerns for Harlequin Historical. I've read several by her and she's one of those authors where I inhale her books, like them to varying degrees and then? Have zero recall about them after I finish the last chapter. I've still got one or two of her westerns buried in the TBR. I save her books for when my brain is melting and real life is pulling me in a ton of directions. They're easy reads that keep me engaged while reading them.