My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Forever His Texas Bride brings the conclusion to Linda Broday’s charming western historical romance series, The Bachelors of Battle Creek. I loved the previous 2 installments, and glad to report that this final installment held the same uncomplicated storytelling laced with the same sweetness and courage that never failed to make me smile.
This series tells the tales of three brothers—Cooper Thorne, Rand Sinclair and Brett Liberty, 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 has been taking care of Rand and Brett. Things haven’t changed much as he’s still the ‘big brother’ to them. Tragic past has bound these three men together since childhood. When they escaped the orphan train in search of a better life, the brothers didn’t know the dangers that lay ahead. Fortunately it was because of one kindly man and his contribution to their lives is why they now have a future. Isaac treated them like his own. After his death, they each inherited substantial amount of money to move forward. The brothers then 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 and Delta’s story is in book 1, Texas Mail Order Bride. When he met Delta, Cooper already acquired a ranch called Long Odds. They actually met because of a prank that brought her in town as Cooper’s mail-order bride. A fact Cooper himself had no idea about! Even though he refuses to marry her, Cooper couldn’t keep Delta out of his mind. Delta, who had a rough childhood and nowhere else to go. Seeing no other option, she decides to settle down in Battle Creek, one particular rancher’s rejection notwithstanding; even if it had hurt her a lot. Everything was going well; she even made friends and charmed people with her wit, kindness and a ready smile. But no matter what, nothing could hide the attraction between them, 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.
When an old nightmare returns to haunt Cooper’s dreams and targets Delta knowing her importance in his life, he had to act fast to save the love of his life. With the help of his brothers, he accomplishes just that. After that, the first bachelor of Battle Creek lost any in staying a bachelor anymore.
In the course of the story, we were also introduced to Rand and Brett. Rand was the charmer of the lot, the ‘acknowledged’ best-looking one. He was also quite the ladies man, until an epiphany that changed the course of his life. Rand suddenly met his mother, who he thought abandoned him when he was young. He had no idea she was even living so close to him under a disguise that it all seemed like a dream. What most didn’t know about Rand had a secret longing to become a successful rancher, also to find his own woman and settle down. He even started to court Delta after Cooper’s initial rejection. But a while later, when she made it known that her interests lie in one man only, Rand backed off.
Rand and Callie’s story can be found in book 2, Twice a Texas Bride. Rand had already bought a rundown ranch called Last Hope with the money he got from selling his saloon. The news of his past brought him some peace, if not the contentment that was lacking. Rand decides to change his ways for good and work towards his dreams. He’s determined to make a home out of this ramshackle place no matter what lay ahead. Then one Miss Callie happens to him, and Rand finds that his life isn’t going to be as simple as he’d initially thought. Callie was running away from someone, had secrets that she refused to reveal, yet in a matter of weeks after she’s instilled in Rand’s home as his cook come housekeeper, she begins winning him out. Oh she had to be the best cook in the whole wide world and a man with Rand’s appetite appreciated that skill. ;)
When they finally begin falling for each-other, Callie’s own demons are revealed, with that a secret she held dear to her heart. It could’ve destroyed their budding relationship but because they both cared for each-other so much, it survived that battle. All Rand ever wanted a home, a wife to love and to come home to. A room full of children. He was finally going to get his heart’s wish, thanks to Callie, who returned his affection and was grateful to him for everything. The happiness that eluded her all her life was hers at last.
With 2 bachelors settling down, this leaves only Brett. He is an ancient soul; a free spirit. He has a mixed heritage, half-Indian 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.
At the beginning of Forever His Texas Bride, Brett was returning from selling horses when he gets arrested by the sheriff of a town just because of his mixed heritage. This sheriff, Oldham, is as mean as they come. Comanche killed his family years ago, and he never got over that fact. So he’d vowed to erase every single one of them from this planet. Brett was going be another of his casualties in this so-called “crusade”. Brett tries his best to get away, but a bullet from the pursuing sheriff’s men caught him off-guard. Then he’s taken to prison and treated like a pig, with an ominous promise from Oldham. He’d be hanged ASAP, just because Indian blood flows in his vein. Oldham, the a$$hole, didn’t forget to take away the good amount Brett earned from selling the horse, oh no! After all its money, what if it came at the cost of a “lowly half-breed’s” life? What if it was the fruit of his hard work?!
At the prison, Brett finds the most unexpected of cellmates. Rayna Harper, a small-time thief, who was only trying to get by until one of Oldham’s equally nasty deputies caught her. She’s been imprisoned here for a long time. The deputy wants something from her that Rayna is NOT willing to give. But she has no one else in this world of save her from this situation, so the more days passed, the more it seems that if she has to survive, she has to do the unthinkable. But with Brett here, Rayna finds someone to talk to. The wound in his shoulder was the first thing that needed to be taken care of. Devoid of any decent company, Rayna tries to take care of Brett from the moment she met him. However, it wasn’t until the kindly doctor’s arrival that she’s given access to Brett’s cell to help the elderly gentleman.
Thankfully, because Brett was absent for more days than he was supposed to, Rand and Cooper got worried. And so they rode out to search for him. They were worried because Brett didn’t keep any weapons other than his handy knife, and he’d be traveling with quite a big amount… of course the brothers wanted to check up on him. Their trail led them to a farmer who saw Brett last, and from there, they finally found Brett in the prison, just before his hanging. Cooper lords his authority over sleazy Oldham and rescues Brett (and his money). But by then, quite a few days have passed and Brett won’t leave without Rayna. Two lonely souls have gotten to know each-other well, where I think Rayna was already halfway in love with him because of the kindness that was so obvious in Brett. Kindness was something Rayna has never known as we begin discovering her sad past in the later parts of the story.
Rayna’s father was abusive. A completely conscienceless guy, he was mean, addicted to alcohol and women. Raymond Harper had a deep misogynistic streak and would beat Rayna up if she ever rebelled against his wishes. The same thing that saw Rayna’s mother’s disappearance. One day, after beating her senseless, Raymond took Elna to a place unknown and returned alone. He has never told Rayna where her mother was and that was the end of it. Rayna’s family is extremely poor; they’re bonepickers, which makes them some sort of a pariah in the communities. In fact, anywhere they go, people stay away from them. Rayna hated her status in life, hated Raymond Harper with her every being. But what we didn’t know in the beginning was just how deeply Raymond had “used” Rayna for his own gain, which left an equally deep and dark mark on her soul. Rayna wanted to be free of that cursed life, which is why one day, she ran when the opportunity presented itself. Her brother Hershel, who was her only protector, the only person apart from Elna who had loved her, was already dead by then. It was another act of kindness from him, he was trying to save Rayna from being raped... again. After that, there was nothing left for Rayna to do but run for her life.
I didn’t think she lived a completely unharmed life after that, as lonely as she was, though that part was left unsaid in the story. Maybe it was for the better because I didn’t wanna dwell on it. At the moment, Rayna was afraid her bonepicker past would catch up with her and Brett’s brothers may not find her worthy enough to accompany them. Fortunately, she didn’t know Rand and Cooper well, so it wasn’t surprising that Cooper didn’t even bat an eyelash and obliged to Brett’s wishes.
When they return to Battle Creek, Brett begins encouraging Rayna to change her ways and become a respectable woman. Rayna already was craving that and more. She wanted to make Brett happy. She wanted to be the kind of lady Brett may come to like, even love, one day. But would she be able to change her coarse ways, enough to entice Brett? Rayna didn’t know but she vowed she’d try her best. Luckily, a need arouse for the doctor of the town, who needed help badly around the hospital. Brett was so happy with Rayna’s care back at the prison that he refers her to the doctor. Soon enough, with a little training and guidance, she begins to prove herself useful, someone of worth. And with Brett’s constant support, Rayna begins to hope for a new life in Battle Creek.
It becomes obvious shortly to Brett and Rayna that their attraction is mutual. However, the way things were and the hatred bred by the racists– a good example would be the incident that led to their meeting– was something that bugged Brett a lot. He was in search of his roots for a long time now but not knowing his own tribe or who his parents were has weighed on his soul for long. And Brett didn’t want Rayna to get entangled in that hazy world, even though he wanted her to be with him always. Rayna understood but tell that to her heart, the poor thing! It wants Brett and his strong, assured yet kind ways. She just wants to be with him. Soon, we get to learn that Brett is a virgin. Women haven’t been his forte, or more precisely, he never thought about them that way until Rayna. Now his body wants to reciprocate, as their few fumbling kisses would suggest, but Brett’s hands are tied. He’s adamant of not dragging Rayna down in a path where not only she’d be an outcast in many communities for marrying a “half-breed” but also, their union may lead to her own downfall. No, not after all that she’d suffered.
Soon thereafter, opportunities find Brett, so does the answers that have been plaguing him for so long. To learn about his past, his birthright... his own people. In the earlier installments, it was hinted that a woman has been trying to find Brett through an investigator. Brett didn’t put a lot of faith in it, though secretly he wanted to know if she’s related to him or not. Sarah stops at Battle Creek one morning with her 14 yrs. old son in tow, looking for Brett Liberty. Fortunately, Brett was nearby and was able to receive them at the station. It was obvious that Sarah was mixed, though her white genes dominated her Indian ones. But no one can deny the Indian in Adam, and he seems extremely unhappy, surly.
Sarah surprises Brett by introducing herself as his sister. Brett was hoping for a relative, not his long lost sister! Here is someone who is not only his own blood, but also can answer his questions! Even though, at first, Brett was a bit hesitant, Sarah put his doubts to rest soon enough by telling him about their tribe, the tragic past and how they were torn apart by their cruel English grandfather. Their own father was a young, English artist who came here and fell in love with the daughter of their tribe’s leader. Their English grandfather never accepted this marriage, their father perishing in an accident was all it took for the man launch an attack on the ‘barbarians’. Brett was only months old, but Sarah was 7 so she remembers bits and pieces of it quite well. She was taken in by some kindly people, given education. She married too but her husband up and left when he saw Adam after birth crying adultery, which was not true. The man simply couldn’t take it that his son looks like a “half-breed”. For all intent and purpose, he seemed like another of those losers. No wonder Adam is so unhappy all the time!
After his meeting with his family, Brett helps settle Sarah down but there was Adam to take care of. Brett now understood him well. Behind all those anger and rudeness was the hurt caused by the abandonment of his father, also a fear of leading a life where he’d be always scrutinized and hated by people. Brett knew that life pretty well, he’s living it. When Sarah desperately asks for his help in helping Adam adjust, Brett knew he had to do it. He would’ve done it anyway though...... One day, as the first stepping stone of that endeavor, Brett takes Adam to Wild Horses where he can teach him how to appreciate the simplicities of life. He also wants Adam to check out his horses, to see if he’d be interested in becoming a trainer like himself. That should keep his worries away for a while.
Days passed, and Adam begins to calm down with Brett’s influence. Not surprising, Brett is like that. Then one day, they find an old Indian man coming down the hill. He’s also very ill. When the man informs them about a group of orphans hiding somewhere needing urgent help, Brett jumps to action immediately. He finds at least 20 Indian children of various ages being taken care of an elderly Sister. They were travelling to orphanage when their wagon broke down and left them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, some of the children were already showing symptoms of some kinda illness that Brett couldn’t identify instantly. Though he had his suspicions, he couldn’t leave those kids there so Brett takes them all to his ranch to give food and shelter, then mull over their next course of action.
Brett sends for the doctor of Battle Creek, and Rayna accompanies him knowing Brett needed help. When smallpox is diagnosed, Brett knew this may prove to be a problem, so he has to be careful and keep the children here at Wild Horses until they’re cured. But when Brett’s Indian-hater neighbor gets the wind of it, things become nasty too fast, too soon. He already despised having a half-breed so close to his own ranch, now he’s got an excuse to evict him; if not, kill and rid the world of Brett’s kind. With him, Oldham, who had been fired from his post after Cooper’s complaint to the Texas Rangers, joins hand... soon, even Rayna’s own past returns to haunt her, when Raymond Harper shows up with all his nastiness to blackmail her. When failed and threatened by Brett, he also joins with those ne’er-do-wells.
From then on, Forever His Texas Bride goes to narrate a courageous story of how Brett faced down those thugs day after day, night after night, quite tirelessly to protect the innocent children under his care. A large portion of the story is basically set on Wild Horses dealing with this continuous standoff that threatened the peace loving Brett’s sanity. He goes to extraordinary lengths in order to protect his loved ones. Brett did nothing to garner such hatred and prejudice, but that's how it was. This even threatened his budding relationship with Rayna, though it only solidifies their match as they fight to keep the danger at bay with the help of Cooper, Rand and their men. Good always triumphs over evil and in the end, days of vigilance and unavoidable skirmishes pay off as together they defeat the rancher who was the instigator of these violent incidents.
I very much appreciated Rand and Cooper’s involvement in the story. Their families are not featured as much as I would’ve loved but I understood that they had to be kept safe, away from the whole thing. The epilogue though features Delta and Callie and the children. It seemed that the brothers were, at last, looking forward to their lives, spend happily with their families. I’m surely going to miss this series, though I hope the author considers doing a spin off featuring Adam and a few other secondary characters we’ve seen throughout the series. 4 stars.
But curious mind wants to know: what happened to that Bachelor’s Club after the final, popular bachelor also ended up leg-shackled? :p
I received this ARC, courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca, via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.