The Outlaw Bride
by Maggie Shayne, time-travel (1999)
Silhouette Intimate Moments, $4.25, ISBN 0-373-07967-2

Alert! Spoilers present!

Thank goodness! I've finally found a Maggie Shayne book that I can read without fearing for my blood glucose level! Just when I'm thinking of giving up on her, which I'm loathed to do so as she is one of the few authors who tackle romantic fantasy without qualms. It is quite ironic that this book isn't a fantasy, but a category. A time-travel category, but still...

In 1881, Esmeralda Montoya has seen her father killed by the Brand outlaws and now the town banker, also a Brand, is going to repossess her land. She's not going down without a fight, but since the Brands control the town, she is fighting a lost cause. After murdering a Brand who tried to rape her, she is lynched and is about to be hanged when she prays for heavenly intervention. In 1999, Elliot Brand is examining a strange pendant (the same one Esme is praying upon) and hence he is sent back to 1881. He rescues her, they escape back to 1999, and it's time for them to settle down and make babies to add to the ever-growing Brand clan.

From here onwards, the main conflict is Esme's growing indecisiveness whether to trust the enemy or reclaim her land by means fair or foul. I must say, the romance between Esme and Elliot is rather well-done, unfurling in a gentle pace. There is a clear lack of starry-eyed gaze and diabetic exchange of love words evident in Ms Shayne's other romances, for which I'm grateful. I sat back and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

This is a pretty good book, but I have two quibbles.

One, the other Brand relatives are too perfect. There's the token mad hag cynic to protest Esme's presence, but really, everyone else is pure Martha Stewart material in a pristine Martha Stewart environment. I'm sure many of these perfect people have their own Brand romance books in the past, and I'm sure they are less-than-perfect with their own insecurities and stuff. Let me guess - marriage turns them all into perfect (if uninteresting) people? Thank goodness this doesn't happen in real life. Perfection would drive me to tears of boredom in a week.

I must also express my utmost disappointment at the way Esme's IQ seem to degenerate in exponential relationship to the increasing number of pages into the book. By the last quarter, the feisty, fire-breathing lass has somehow morphed into a self-effacing let-me-bend-my-back-to-sacrifice-my-love-for-the-sake-of-the-hero martyr who tearfully pushes the hero away for his own *snort* good. All for the flimsiest of reasons. Put in a cliched pregnant-after-one-night-of-love angle too and I want to gag. After all the exciting build-up of the previous 100 pages, the story has to lead me down Cliche Avenue? Puh-leeze.

And the fact that Elliot thinks the worst of Esme so easily... I can't help but to be reminded of Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes where the singer bitterly laments Ooh, these little earthquakes/Here we go again/It doesn't take much to rip us into pieces. Indeed, it is disappointing that upon facing the first true test of their love, Esme is the first to cave in and Elliot doesn't hesitate to think the worst of the woman he was pledging eternal love to only 10 pages back. It really doesn't take much to rip them into pieces. Let's hope the Brand millions could cushion these two from future marital discord, because judging from Esme's rotting backbone disease and Elliot's extreme gamma-like behavior, these two would have a hard time facing them.

Rating: 75

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