Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29871-6
Historical Romance, 2016
Wed to the Texas Outlaw is linked to Wed to the Montana Cowboy in that the heroes of both books are estranged twin brothers, who will naturally be together again by the time this duology ends. This one can stand alone, however, if the reader doesn’t mind the presence of various secondary characters, including the couple from the previous book, showing up in the later half of the book. Their presence of course makes sense in context, but I personally think it may be better for readers to start with the previous book before reading this one.
In this one, the other Walker twin, Boone, is in jail for murder. He’s not guilty of that, of course, as he’s one of those outlaws who refuse to actually kill people. Stealing things, breaking things, and maybe injuring people here and there are OK, but murder is a no-no, don’t you know. At any rate, when the story opens, a lawyer, paid by Boone’s brother, is attempting to make a case to the judge that Boone was wrongfully accused. Boone is more interested in a beautiful lady who accompanies the lawyer – she looks at him like he’s special, and he wonders who she is.
Well, she is our heroine, Melinda Winston, the cousin of the heroine of the previous book. Because she is now a cousin-in-law to Boone, she views him as part of the family. She also knows that there is absolutely no way that he is a murderer, because, in her eyes, he doesn’t look like one. After all, murderers are all ugly, as we all know, and therefore cute, hot Ben is clearly incapable of doing bad things. She also listens to the lawyer’s arguments and her eyes begin to glisten with tears, even as Boone at the same time has to roll up his eyes at those arguments. In other words, we have a hero convinced that he’s bad and tainted regardless of reason, while the heroine believes that he walks on air, also regardless of reason.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the lawyer says. What the judge wants, he gets, and in this instance, the judge needs a couple to go undercover to nab an outlaw gang. If Boone succeeds, he will walk free. But he needs a “wife”, and guess who volunteers to step in. On one hand, Melinda is a liability as she needs protection from Boone, when the poor man already has enough on his plate. On the other hand, Melinda’s unrelenting optimism, cheerfulness, and never-say-die attitude is actually quite unnerving – she’s the kind who will skip and hop cheerfully despite the fact that she is missing death by an inch with each gallop – and who knows, she may just get through the whole thing alive to be Boone’s sweetheart and baby momma.
The story here isn’t bad, although Boone and the plot are taken straight right out of the handbook of Western romance tropes, with little done to make them stand out more from the rest of the generic dudes running around the place. The fact that Western historical romances by themselves are rare these days is what saves this story from being too generic. Also, the author, as always, has a nice, sweet way with her story, and there are some lovely tender moments here that can give me warm feelings.
Like the previous book, however, this one also has some relentless over the top villains to give the story a cartoon feel, and the melodramatic action-packed moments can be unintentionally comedic at times.
But the bigger source of dissonance here is the heroine. Melinda’s cheerful insistence that Boone is her family and, hence, she will do anything for him can come off as creepy and obsessive pretty often, and the romance can seem underdeveloped because emotional development hinges almost entirely on Boone coming around to love Creepy Miss Sunshine back. I think the author wants Melinda to be this sweet, warm, and generous darling who understands Boone’s need for a family of his own, but there is something about that poor dear that seems unhinged to me. On the bright side, this unhinged side of Melinda works very well when there is trouble. Nothing fazes her much, and she will fight tooth and nail for Boone so that they can all be a family again. Normally I’d applaud such antics, but this darling is a little too cheerful and upbeat even in times of danger, apparently incapable of feeling fear or terror, so yes, I think she’s crazy.
Anyway, for all its flaws, Wed to the Texas Outlaw is still a readable story. There are good things, there are not-so-good things, and, I’m not sure whether this is by design or not, the heroine spooks me out enough to make sure that I remember this generic story a little longer than I otherwise would.