Donna Alward is one of Miss Bates’s favourite category romance writers, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart one of her favourite romances. Miss Bates has reviewed wonderful Alward roms, including 2014 fave, Her Rancher Rescuer. In The Cowboy’s Convenient Bride, Alward tackles a contemporary marriage-of-convenience romance. It’s spring in Gibson, Montana, and ladies’ man Tanner Hudson is “sick of the bar scene”. Tanner’s wife left him, claiming he was “built for fun, but not for a lifetime.” Since then, he hides his yearning for love and commitment behind a loose-and-free persona. Laura Jessup is town pariah because she slept with Gavin, golden-girl Maddy Wallace’s husband. Gavin died and Laura is mama to four-month-old Rowan, apparently Gavin’s daughter. Appearances are deceiving, however, because Gavin was a friend, offering his lawyer-services to help Laura extricate herself from drug-dealing boyfriend Spencer. Spencer was in jail when EMT Tanner helped Laura give birth: ” … she vaguely remembered pleading with him to stay with her. She’d felt so alone, so afraid, so … adrift”. Laura breaks down and tells Tanner the truth, also confessing she fears Spencer discovering Rowan and pursuing them: “If Spence ever found out that he had a child … It would be nothing short of a nightmare.” Kind, chivalrous Tanner offers Laura a marriage-of-convenience to protect Rowan and allow Laura to establish her online website design business using Tanner’s name.
Alward’s Laura and Tanner are sad. The romance’s first third is taken up with Tanner’s despondent thoughts about Laura, about himself:
Laura Jessup was in sad need of a friend, and no one would go near her. It was as if they were afraid they’d catch something. He hadn’t seen such a lonely person in a very long time.
His life seemed stuck in place. What was he going to do, live with his parents forever? Satisfy himself with short-term hookups now and again? That scene was getting old. Maybe having a place of his own would be a start.
Laura’s thoughts are as woebegone as Tanner’s:
… she had her own place, but it wasn’t much. She kept it clean, but it was hardly better than the lousy apartments in Reno. Rundown and unloved. Funny, she was starting to think of herself in those terms, too.
Miss Bates spent a long time in Laura’s and Tanner’s forlorn thoughts. She didn’t enjoy this aspect of the novel: it was slow as we jumped from sad-Tanner-thought to sad-Laura-thought. Laura and Tanner weren’t coming alive for Miss B. Thank goodness for the baby in her bouncy seat, enjoying life, mama’s milk, and slapping at her toys. Rowan lightened the narrative’s tristesse. Poor Laura and Tanner, thought Miss Bates, they don’t need romance, they need emotional resurrection.
Alward’s Cowboy’s Convenient Bride is a quiet novel about two people’s emotional awakening to purpose, love, and hope. A wonderful sampling of what Alward can do at her best is found in the humorous proposal scene:
He liked Laura, and she was struggling after having made some bad decisions. The simple truth was, he wanted to help. Even if it was temporary … “If not for me, do it for Rowan.”
“You realize that the idea of offering me the protection of your name seems very … well, it’s straight out of one of those historical novels my gram likes to read.”
He grinned. “Some would call it chivalry.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Some would call it antiquated. And an affront to feminism.”
And with this exchange ends any humour or lightness to the narrative. Instead, Tanner’s presence in Laura’s life, his generous gestures, buying her a pot of flowers for the deck, painting and repairing the front steps, taking her and Rowan to the mall for wedding clothes, bring her hope. Laura’s life is made better by Tanner’s sacrifice as his is made better by Laura, simple things, like sharing a laugh, or a meal.
Alward’s romance isn’t dramatic, or adrenaline-rush-inducing. It’s a restful paen to ordinary, every day love, to finding purpose in giving oneself to another. The Cowboy’s Convenient Bride isn’t Alward’s finest romance, nor are Laura and Tanner her most visceral protagonists. The initial internal ruminations are a turn-off and Laura and Tanner’s sadness a block to believing these two can genuinely find happiness. It’s not terribly sexy, or passionate, though attraction and desire are present. It’s an unassuming novel, but no less able to tell us that generosity, affection, care, and friendship, if fueled by desire’s sparks, can yet build a lovely fire. Misses Bates and Austen say that Donna Alward’s Cowboy and his Convenient Bride offer “real comfort,” Emma. And, the cover’s a stunner!
Donna Alward’s The Cowboy’s Convenient Bride is published by Harlequin (American Romance category). It was released on January 5th, 2016, and is available in paper and “e” from your preferred vendor. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.