My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Twice a Texas Bride is the second installment of Linda Broday’s delightful Bachelors of Battle Creek series. It’s a historical western series full of romance and action and some very down-to-earth characters. I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of the Wild West and book 1. But book 2, for me, had its ups and downs.
This series tells the tales of three brothers- Cooper, Rand and Brett, who aren’t brothers by blood but became so by circumstances. But the fierce loyalty and their love for each-other have never wavered. All were orphans when they met. Cooper being the eldest of the three have been taking care of Rand and Brett. Things haven’t changed much as he’s still the ‘big brother’ to them.
Tragic past have bound these three men together since childhood. When they escaped the orphan train in search of a better life, the brothers didn’t know that a danger with the name of Talbot Early, had followed them. When that evil man attacked Brett, the youngest, Cooper shot him, and they were on the run again. It was because of one kindly man, who took them in after a while, is why they now have a future. He treated them like his own. Until his death, three brothers lived with him. When they each inherited substantial amount of money to move forward, thanks to their adoptive father, the brothers arrived in Battle Creek to start anew.
After what they’ve suffered through, the brothers also took a vow to never to get leg-shacked. They were essentially loners and wanted to stay that way. There was even this bachelors’ club that they opened up to honor their vows. Only they didn’t know that there were 3 women out there to help them conquer their fear of love and commitment.
Cooper, the H of book 1 Texas Mail Order Bride, had already acquired a ranch called Long Odds. He’d been ranching successfully when Delta Dandridge arrives in Battle Creek. When he hears that she’d been invited here to become his Mail Order bride, Cooper was surprised, yet equally annoyed. Everyone knew he’s not the marrying kind, then what kinda prank is that? Was this this woman’s dirty plan? But one look at Delta’s blonde beauty and proud demeanor told Cooper that she had also been played fool with. Even though he refuses to marry her, Cooper couldn’t keep Delta out of his mind. Poor Delta, she had a rough childhood as an illegitimate daughter of a man who never acknowledged her. When her ever sad and broken mother passed away, Delta had nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to. Hence she thought leaving Georgia to start her life as a rancher’s bride would be the perfect opportunity to start over. Alas, apparently the handsome rancher doesn’t want her. Delta is quite upset by the turn of events, yet nothing more hurt her than the rancher’s rejection. It seems that no one would ever want her in this life.
Because she had nowhere else to go, Delta decides to settle down in Battle Creek. Everything was going well, she even made friends and charmed people with her wit, kindness and a ready smile. Yet there was no ignoring Cooper Thorne when he’d stop by the only mercantile of the town where she was currently working. No matter what, nothing could hide the attraction they felt for each-other, despite Cooper’s determination to keep away. At one point, he couldn’t deny the fact that he wanted much more with Delta than just a fling. Delta wanted him right from the beginning. Then knowing him, hearing about his good deeds from the townspeople, only worked on to intensify that longing. At one point, they just had to give into that siren’s call.
When old nightmares in the form of Talbot Early returns and targets Delta knowing her importance, Cooper had to act fast to save the love of his life. With the help of his brothers, he accomplishes just that.
In the course of the story, we are introduced to Rand Sinclair and Brett Liberty. Rand is the most handsome of the three. So far, he had no idea about his parents, only the vague recollection of a father and some terrible nightmares, as we come to learn in his story. Rand was the town’s only saloon owner, and had the reputation of being a lady’s man. Many broken hearts have been seen scattered around his wake. But what most didn’t know that he had a secret longing to become a successful rancher much like Cooper, also to find The One for himself. He even started to court Delta after Cooper initial rejection. But a while later, when she made it known that her interests lie in one man only, Rand backed off. Brett, on the other hand, is an ancient soul; a free spirit. He has an Indian heritage, probably mixed but was abandoned very young by his family. Brett now owns his own ranch called Wild Horses, where he tames and trains horses, living in his handmade tepee. He’s the most reserved and sensitive of the brothers, and has proven himself to be an excellent tracker in the past. His skill comes handy in both books when his brothers needed his help.
In the beginning of Twice a Texas Bride, we find Rand has already bought a ranch named Last Hope that he’s been eyeing for a while. He’d also sold his saloon, aiming to become a respectable rancher. But more than that, he wanted, needed a place to call his own. A home that he’s always missed. Seeing his brothers having their own home, with Cooper married and now on the verge of becoming a father, has done the irreversible to Rand. Though he still acts as if he still wanted to stay a bachelor, the moment he lays his eyes Callie, he knew he wanted more. Much more. The realization struck; he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life alone.
At the end of book 1, Rand very suddenly found his once famous opera singer mother, who had left him quite young. He’d always despised her for doing so, because it seemed her career meant more to her than her family. Rand seemed to remember bits and pieces of what happened to his father, though his mother tells him that she tried to find him when she returned but couldn’t locate him. By then, everybody knew that Rand’s father had drowned in a river and his body was never recovered, so she gathered Rand was killed too. Though he always craved to belong and to have a mother to take care of him, now her constant meddling grates on Rand. More so because Abigail is more than determined to shower him with money and valuables, as if those will ever replace his lost childhood. Rand wants to be his own man, he doesn’t want or need his mother’s money. But then, Last Hope is a ramshackle place that’ll need considerable amount of money to renovate. This push and pull creates quite a tension between the mother and the son, but in the end, Rand realizes that he needs to cut her some slack for at least trying to be a part of his life now.
Rand has just moved into Last Hope when one night he finds Callie and her young nephew, Toby hiding in one of the rickety outhouses, shivering in cold. He didn’t know them but couldn’t leave them that way. It was also because he instinctively felt that they were running from something... or someone. Though Callie was wearing a torn dress and both were equally filthy from their journey, Rand is attracted to her. Callie most obviously had trust issues, probably something to do with a man and wouldn’t even give him her full name, but seeing Toby’s feverish face, she accepts Rand’s invitation. Something in her decides to trust him, even if a little. But she won’t freeload, neither would Toby, and Rand had a wonderful solution to that dilemma! He’s a man of goodly appetite who appreciated good cooking. Callie proves the first day that she’s a pro in that area and so, she was hired by him to become his housekeeper/cook. Callie warns Rand that she won’t stay here forever and might leave anytime. But for now, she’d help him out and earn her keep.
As the days pass, Rand begins to feel more at home than he’d ever felt in his entire life. Callie is not only good at cooking and cleaning, she’s a smart woman. Cooper and Brett, even Delta, stop by to meet her and more than one joke with innuendo were passed around. Rand instantly begins falling for her, though she was still keeping her distance from him. Her trust issue so palpable, that one can’t ignore it. Poor Rand didn’t know what to do allay her fear, because she won’t confide in him. His pleas fall into deaf ears, with Callie threatening that she’d leave if he tries to glean any information from her. But Toby was a different case altogether. Though at first, Rand thought Toby is Callie’s son, soon enough the boy, who was already hero-worshiping Rand and tagging him along around the ranch, blurts out that Callie is his aunt. And that her mother passed away sometimes ago, and that his father is very mean and bad. What could a 6 yrs. old boy do, right? He loved Rand already and it was apparent that he was craving a manly figure to look up to. Rand doted on him, so he fit the bill perfectly.
Callie isn’t happy about it though, yet she finally begins to open up a little. She confides that her twin sister Claire was Toby’s mother. And that notorious outlaw, Fleming Fleming is Toby’s father. A man who comes from generations of outlaws, has no scruples and knows no mercy. From Callie’s own musings, we’d already learned that Last Hope was once her home. Her mother Nora died when they were only in their teens. Their father passed away long time ago, and their mother had remarried. The stepfather and his son weren’t so nice. The moment Nora’s spirit left her body Edward married some socialite and moved her in the house. From then on, the sisters’ lives became utterly miserable as that woman would do everything to make sure that they suffer.
At 17, to defy Edward, Claire eloped with Fleming. He is very good-looking and could be charming when it suits his purpose. Soon though, Claire learns of his true colors. Callie had never liked him, Fleming returned the sentiment tenfold. When Claire suddenly fell ill couple of months ago and seemed won’t last long, she urged Callie to take Toby and run. You see, Fleming had this plan to train Toby to become just like himself. It wasn’t a father’s sentiment to see his son grow up to be like him; it was a man aiming to use one of his possessions to its fullest by training it early. Callie couldn’t let it happen. She knew that Fleming is on her trail and would kill her to get to Toby. She wouldn’t put it past him to do something horrible to her before that. Callie is so scared of hers and Toby’s life that she’d get spooked seeing the shadows in the dark. Though it seemed she can’t rely on any man ever again, Rand had already staked his claim in her heart. And that made her feel more vulnerable than ever.
At one point, news reach that a fatally ill mother is looking for a family to adopt her infant daughter. Her husband died before the child was born and the news of her illness shakes all the brothers since he used to be a ranch-hand at Cooper’s. Delta is so heavily pregnant with twins that Cooper can’t let her take on another baby right now. So she and the mother stop by to urge Callie to take the baby in. Callie, at first, won’t because her heart was pounding. Taking on a baby means she’s meaning to live here more permanently than she’d originally planned. Can she do it, because Rand sure as hell can’t take care of a baby all by himself! She refuses to even touch the baby, but when the mother falls ill, Delta hands baby Wren over to her. Just a moment, and the feeling of holding a child unravels something inside Callie. She instantly decides she’s gonna love this child as her own. I knew at that time that it meant much more than it seemed. Callie certainly has a ‘past’ which didn’t have to do with Fleming, and that she hadn’t divulged that part to Rand.
Rand had no problems taking Wren in. He’d already tried proposing marriage to Callie to get her to stay with him, though he wasn’t successful. Toby definitely wants him to be his ‘new’ father, calling Fleming his ‘old’ father. Children, right? :) Making Wren’s adaption permanent meant that they’re now a family. And for that, they have to get married. Callie surprises him this time by raising this issue, and her acceptance of his proposal. Rand is ecstatic that his beautiful girl would marry him! Yet next, Callie deflates his enthusiasm by telling him that the marriage will be in name only. At least, for now. *sigh* TBH, I was a bit more than frustrated. Callie was obviously hiding something, which sort of made the story drag. She won’t tell anyone what happened, yet would make Rand suffer for it. Rand, who was a known womanizer (though not a cad), even agrees on her term as long as she lets him kiss her every night before bed. He hoped that in time he’d be able to woo Callie into being a true wife. What he didn’t know that Callie had no intentions of sleeping with him, or any man for that matter, ever again. *double sigh*
I wanted to know WHY? Really wtf? Have to mention that I was a bit weary of Rand’s womanizing reputation. But he wasn’t all that love’em-leave’em type. Initially, when he was much younger, he wanted relationships, not just sex. He was hurt more than once. Of 3 women that he claimed to have loved, two left him and one died before he could even profess his love for her. I found this extremely sad and heartbreaking. Rand already had this complexity about everyone he cared about leaving him, so he made a point not to get entangled with a woman beyond the physical after that. In book 1, he seemed like a gentleman but I wasn’t sure what to think of him. In here, Rand proved that he’s a marvelous man. He was the first to fall and was scared as hell that Callie, too, would leave him sooner or later. That didn’t seem like some OTT womanizer at all! He so wanted this little cozy family that he and Callie had made to stay the same that he’d do anything to earn her trust, to help her. If only she’d let him in! Needless to say, Callie took a long time to warm up to him, then to confide in him, so long that I began feeling upset. Their relationship was way too fraught with tension and frustration for my liking. It seemed she was always scared of what’s to come next and all Rand did was to walk on tip-toes so that she doesn’t balk!
After the marriage though things begin to change a little. There are some sweet moments scattered throughout with the children and Callie and Rand trying to make out a life through everything. Since Wren’s mother passed on right after their marriage, she’s now a permanent member of this family. Brett was also a fixture that Toby seemed to much appreciate. They struck up a close uncle-nephew bond, with a tepee made by Brett and all that. By looking at how Callie would take care of Wren, I was coming to realize that there was a baby somewhere in her past.
Suddenly then, Fleming comes to town to terrorize the family by tracking Callie’s trail. They were visiting Battle Creek one day to have some fun when he’s spotted by her. That moment Callie realizes just how vulnerable she is without Rand by her side. She also knew that she’d do anything to keep her little family safe. And so, she decides to confide in Rand about everything. IMO she should’ve done that much earlier as he kept telling her that he can’t protect her completely without knowing everything. Their run-ins with Fleming gave Callie the urgency to do so.
Cooper and Rand chase Fleming for a while. He escapes them but Rand knew the SOB will be back with vengeance, because a cruel, seasoned outlaw like him would never back down from grabbing what he deems his. But seeing Rand ride on after Fleming leaves Callie with the fear of unknown. She becomes worried sick of losing Rand. Callie realizes, again, that she can’t at all carry on without Rand.
After that, not only Callie and Rand finally consummate their marriage, she also tells her past, a one night stand where she lost her virginity to an equally inexperienced young man. A baby that came as the result, but was taken away from her by Edward and David even before she could hold her a bit. Callie didn’t know where the father was because he was never seen or heard from ever again. She was sure Edward had a hand in his disappearance; all because he thought Callie intentionally did this to ruin them in the society. But after experiencing a very painful labor and having her heart broken by losing her child, Callie was scared of sex and a pregnancy that’s sure to follow. Yet she knew she was being unfair to Rand. I applauded that, at last, she was willing to take a step further and let Rand show her the pleasures of marriage bed to help her forget the painful memories. I didn’t mention that one of the reasons why Callie returned to Last Hope was to find a box that her mother gave to her and Claire that held something valuable. She could’ve used the money to keep herself and Toby alive. Callie had no idea where it was, also forgot where she kept the key. The key, though, was found in Rand’s keychain, who found it somewhere in the house. In the meantime, Callie is also able to find the box. Upon further investigation, they find some valuable jewels in it that they both decide to save for the children’s future.
As expected, Fleming returns to ruin their lives once again. This time he brings the perfect pawn to force Callie out of her safe haven; her long lost daughter, Mariah. It should’ve made me mad, when, after a day of shootouts and Rand getting shot in the process, she leaves in the dead of the night to surrender to Fleming, but it didn’t. She had a plan which fails ultimately, but I understood her dilemma; her complete, utter desperation. A mother could NOT leave her child with men like those, most especially because she knew the extent of Fleming’s cruelty, and be in a safe place herself. Callie knew Rand would be hurt but she had to act fast with whatever she had. It was a huge relief for me when Rand, after the initial shock and confusion, eventually catches up with Callie’s intentions because I ABSOLUTELY would’ve hated to see him hurt again. He gathers help pronto to go on a mission of life and death. Because this time, Fleming has gone too far, so it’s either Rand or him.
In the end, it was a pretty good read overall. I missed an epilogue though, because after what they’ve been together, Callie and Rand deserved some peace and good quality family time. I saw hints of what we can expect in Brett’s book and totally psyched to see where his journey takes him. He’s such a gentle soul that he deserves someone who’d love the crap outta him! :D I enjoyed the updates on Cooper-Delta, hopefully will see more of them and Callie-Rand in Brett’s book. 4 stars.
I received this ARC, courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.