My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
I have waited to pick up another Pamela Morsi book for at least 4 yrs. There is a reason behind it but I am not here to discuss that. Recently I decided I need to give her older romance a try once again. Last week I finished “Sealed with a Kiss”, which didn’t really live up to my expectations. But I had already bought a few books by her so I picked up Courting Miss Hattie instead. The blurb intrigued me, so did the ratings. And I have to say that it was better than I thought it would be. I’m also quite fond of older woman-younger man theme, so that was a boon in this story. Surprised me really, because I didn’t know it prior to starting the book.
Courting Miss Hattie is set at the turn of the century. Hattie Colfax was but a child when her father passed away leaving her with her frail, difficult-to-be-with mother. But that didn’t mean Hattie didn’t love them both. Being an only child, she took care of her until she also passed on. After that, Hattie has been pretty much alone, taking care of their farmland all by herself. But she also had a helper. Reed Tyler came to them when he was but barely a boy, recruited by her father. 5 yrs younger than Hattie, Reed took to the training soon. While Hattie only had 2 other members in her family, Reed’s family was very big with 8/9 brothers and sisters. He was somewhere in the middle so the training at an early age did him good. Every bit of financial contribution mattered. Besides Reed’s father liked Hattie’s and was happy to have him work for the old Mr. Colfax.
Now a grown man of 24, Reed is every bit as hardworking and one of the best farmers around. Since she started taking care of the farm, Hattie had leased out her land to other farmers but no one stuck around for long. Not because it wasn’t a good land—people wanted it as we find out soon enough— but because Reed took over as soon as he was of an age and was able to farm on his own. He had a dream and Colfax farm was a big part of it. Reed wanted to own it someday when Hattie won’t be able to take care of it anymore. After working here for so long, Colfax farm felt like his place so Reed treated it as such. He has recently gotten engaged to the prettiest girl in town, so he had other things to think of as well.
But above all, Reed was quite fond of Hattie. Miss Hattie was someone he looked up to and cared for. They worked together every day since their childhood. In all, they have been a part of each-other since Reed was 12 and Hattie 17. Now you ask, why weren’t they engaged instead? That’d surely solve any problem they may have regarding Hattie’s farm! Why isn’t Hattie married yet for that matter?
Unfortunately for Hattie, she wasn’t attractive enough to ‘catch a man’. But to me, after reading everything, it felt more like the result of small-town gossip of equally shallow-minded people than anything else. Hattie had a longer face and a mouth full of white, bright teeth that were a tad bigger than usual. She had a bright, big smile I’m sure. However, that has gotten her various nasty nicknames since her childhood. Being a lonely child, Hattie was rather introvert and the school bullies didn’t take kindly to that. She was abused and taunted for her ‘face’ and became ‘Horseface Hattie’ to everyone. I mean everyone in the town. To this day, till now, they call her Horseface Hattie behind her back. At times not even that! Can you even imagine????! I was agape reading how horrible people were, dragging on something like that for years after years, so much so that Hattie doesn’t even mind anymore. It has become a part of her life, as much as loneliness and spinsterhood had. She had wanted her own family but she knew from a young age that she never will because no man will ever ask her. No one did so far...until recently.
So it was, one of the town widower and father of 7, Ancil Drayton had shown a marked interest in Hattie. Drayton was not ‘dream guy’ material by any stretch of the word. In fact, IMO any girl with a bit of self-respect would never give him a chance. His callousness had probably seen his wife to an early grave. 7 children in about 10yrs or so… Good God! :| But when Hattie heard of it, she was rather...intrigued. I tried to understand it from her perspective here, and couldn’t blame her even if Ancil had all the charm of a slimy worm. She was genuinely pleased that a man suddenly took notice of her. But what she didn’t know that Ancil had no great attraction towards her. All he wanted was the land she could offer, which was way better than his own (another thing almost barren by his callous treatment). I wish Hattie figured it out sooner rather than later but everything was happening so soon, and she really liked Ancil’s children so she seriously begins considering his offer. At least, she won’t be lonely anymore. Hattie was super hard-working and as neat and clean as they came; exact opposite of Ancil and his brood. But Hattie didn’t mind. She would help them with everything when they married. Hell, she was good in everybody when there was none of that. -_-
But no one knew, like even Hattie ever refused to consider, was her intense attraction to Reed now that he’s grown to be a tall and handsome, strapping young man. She knew there was no chance of them being together but it was one of those intense longing you have for a person you know you can never have. Hattie couldn’t help it and tried her best to stamp it down; to be practical. Reed had always treated her like an elder sister. At least, he’d never shown any other type of interest. Besides he’s engaged now so all Hattie can do is to grab hold of the opportunity she’d been given and try to be as happy as possible for her.
When we get to know more of Reed’s courtship of Bitchy…ahemm, Bessie Jane, we learned that Reed wasn’t in love with her. Lust, yes cause she was young and very beautiful. Besides they’ve had sex once, and seeing tears in Bessie Jane’s eyes he’d promptly offered for her. With her father’s blessings, Reed has been courting her for a few months now. Though Bessie Jane is very eager to marry, Reed can’t until he’s got his business straighten out to his liking. In this case, buying Colfax farm.
On the get go, I didn’t like Bitchy Jane. I’ll explain why I call her that. She was a spoiled whiny girl who liked to manipulate people to get to do her bidding. Some would say she was young, nothing more than a teenager but everything she did to demean Hattie was horrible. There was no excuse for her behavior. She called her all kinds of names in Reed’s presence, knowing his utmost respect and affection for Hattie. When he talked of Hattie and Colfax farm, Reed could forget everyone else. And Bessie Jane hated it. I also absolutely hated the fact that Reed never really strictly warned the girl until he himself began to view Hattie as the woman she was. I wish he’d slap Bitchy Jane’s face off. I wanted to for sure! The better person here was Hattie, who was ever forgiving but never a doormat! She was smart and simply tried her best to not dwell on those things. ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’—was her philosophy.
Reed heard of Hattie and Ancil’s story from Bitchy Jane’s usual nasty gossip and titter about Hattie’s ‘unfortunate’ face and her old and lonely existence that was such a joke for this girl. I mean seriously Reed, wtf did you see in this girl? Tell me please! A nasty person becomes even nastier in my eyes with such behavior, doesn’t matter how goodlooking they are on the outside. It’s just one of those things and I would simply SMH at Reed, thinking how could he tolerate that girl who was SO MEAN to Hattie for the better part of the book! The author tried to make her nice by showing some changes later, but she was forever marked as a bitch in my eyes so I simply wanted her gone.
Then we get a backstory of Bessie Jane’s ‘real’ love, a junkyard boy that her father refused to let her see. Harmon Leege is 20, tall and goodlooking, who had a knack for machineries and fixing anything like that. He works hard to improve his life and the unfortunate circumstances that ruined all his chances, no thanks to his own father’s drunkenness and his mother’s elopement with another man. No one ever thought Harmon would ever amount to anything; that he’ll someday go down the same drain his father has. But these were the same people that taunted Hattie all her life so I couldn’t expect anything better from them.
So Harmon was the one Bessie Jane was enamored of but she wasn’t brave enough to weather the wrath of her father. She had lost her virginity to Harmon, something Reed failed to notice for his own lack of experience with virgins. Snaring Reed was something very much pre-planned so she could ‘move on’, not because she cared for him. Not that I really cherished reading all that crap between them but I know that the author has a tendency of wasting pages on characters who didn’t deserve any attention to begin with, and the hero’s OWs or other sexual escapades that I’d rather not hear of. So I had to simply skim through to get to the pages where Hattie and Reed were. Anyway, since her father has decreed Harmon unacceptable on all accounts, Bessie Jane had manipulated Reed into having sex, and then gotten a proposal out of him. She’s been forcing Reed to hurry the wedding date for a while now. I, at first, though she was pregnant or something. She was definitely the type who would’ve passed on the baby as Reed’s if that was the case. But all she wanted was to marry Reed to keep Harmon at bay, who, in his blind devotion to that dumb bitch, won’t let her be. He’d sneak at the back of her house and try to tempt her into running away with him. She even deeply hurt Harmon more than once so he stops chasing her. *headache alert!* However tempted she was, Bessie Jane was never going to run away with the likes of Harmon Leege. Nope.
This far, I was bored and, frankly, irritated at the characters, except for Hattie cause I LOVED her. But things started to rush when Ancil and Hattie sped up their courtship. Hattie had never kissed anyone, so she was worried that her fiancé won’t be happy with her, uh, performance. Who had she but Reed to confide to? It didn’t even feel abnormal cause Reed was the closest thing to a friend, if not a brother, she’d ever had. Reed had already started looking at Hattie as a woman for the first time in his life, noting the ample curves under her shapeless dress. All he saw was a woman he could desire. There was nothing wrong with her, and for the first time in his life, Reed wondered why had he never considered Hattie as the perfect helpmeet, which she was in every day possible by the standard of a hardworking farmer. She could make him the best wife possible whereas Bessie Jane wasn’t suited for farm life at all. She had made it clear time after time that she didn’t want anything to with farming!
So when Hattie asked him shyly for a short training in kissing, Reed had the hard-on of his life. I mean seriously! He was feeling it, like having that chance to taste the most forbidden of fruits. :P It could’ve escalated to something else, had Reed not stopped it in time. But by that time he’d decided he wanted Hattie more than anyone else. But how could he offer for her, when he’d already entangled himself with Bessie Jane and Hattie is seeing Ancil? On the other hand, Hattie was head-over-heels for this strapping and sexy Reed. ;) She’d admired him physically for a while; the kisses only left her insatiable. Ancil’s kisses were just...uh, better not discuss those at all. But Hattie thought about the security a man can offer her and a lifetime with those children and decides to make things official with Ancil.
At that point, things turned in a way that it begin to look positive for Hattie and Reed when she hears of Ancil’s boasting of grabbing her farm. The bearer of that bit of gossip was none other than the town’s best gossip Bessie Jane, who wasn’t simply doing a neighborly charity. Bessie Jane, one, wanted to push Reed to marry her and without Colfax farm, he won’t be able to. Two, she couldn’t help poking Hattie about her ‘unattractiveness’ on her face. That girl was just.........ugh! End result, Hattie was hurt cause she thought Ancil was genuine in his regard. :( Reed wasn’t happy about any of it himself. He was mad at Ancil, and irritated at Bessie Jane. When he thought of it with a clear head, he knew he must marry Hattie. Only he didn’t know how he can go about it and break his engagement with Bessie Jane off. Fortunately, Harmon Leege took the matter in hand. Bessie Jane, for the first time in her life, gathers the courage to elope with him (good riddance!), leaving Reed free to consider the possibilities.
After a disastrous courtship where Reed couldn’t begin to understand how to court someone like Hattie, things take a rather lovely turn. He was good with women; only Hattie wasn’t just another woman in his life. She mattered. It was also because both felt awkward due to their previous history where they could never determine what they meant to each-other. Hattie kinda knew for a while, but to Reed it was simply too new and awesome. He wanted to marry Hattie not just because of the land, which is of course was a part of the bargain, but because he wanted her madly. Now that his brain has turned, he couldn’t think of marrying anyone else. I was so happy cause this made Hattie extremely happy. :D
The ending was rather lovely too which is why I gave Courting Miss Hattie a 4 star. I loved how Hattie and Reed’s relationship turned to something more fulfilling than they could’ve ever imagined. I only wish Reed saw it much earlier and saved Hattie from all that humiliation and heartaches.