Charmaine Renlow is the only single lady over the age of seventeen left in Copper Creek. She's watched all her friends and family get married and has spent years amassing several hope chests full of pretty things for her dreamed of home with a husband she adores. But her long-time beau has been dragging his feet about asking her to marry him. When she meets new-in-town, single dad Jack Easton, Charmaine starts to wonder if it might be time to move on. As they work together on a float for the Founder's Day parade, they grow closer, but will Jack be able to put aside his preconceived notions of who Charmaine is to see the real person underneath the perfection she presents to others in town?
"Almost a Bride" is the third and final story in Cheryl St. John's Copper Creek Brides series. It features Charmaine, who is a cousin to Annie from the first book, Sweet Annie, and a friend to Kate from the second book, His Secondhand Wife. Charmaine has been waiting for four long years for her beau to propose and decides that maybe it's time to look toward greener pastures. While filling in for another cousin on a float-building committee for the upcoming Founder's Day parade, she starts getting to know Jack who is new in town. Jack used to live in the mountains, but he moved closer to town for the sake of his young son, Daniel. However, he's mostly been keeping to himself, until he volunteers his barn as a site for building the float. As they work on the project together, an attraction begins to form, but Jack may have trouble getting past his preconceived notions of the type of woman he thinks Charmaine is.
Charmaine watched while her cousin, Annie, and all her friends got married. As the last single woman of marriageable age in Copper Creek, she's starting to feel left out and also wondering what's wrong with her that her long-time beau hasn't yet proposed after such a long time of courting. Thinking that maybe he needs a little push in the right direction, she considers the idea of using another man to try to make him jealous. Then she meets Jack who would be the perfect candidate, except that she begins to develop real feelings for the single dad and his charming young son. Charmaine is an only child, and although I wouldn't exactly call her spoiled, she has had a pretty good life and has come to enjoy fanciful things. She views those around her like Annie and Kate as special but doesn't feel like others view her as special, so she's a perfectionist who's driven to try to be the best at everything she does and to present a flawless image of herself. Yet, deep down, she has an independent streak that makes her very special indeed if only someone would take notice of her. I really liked Charmaine in the other two books for her kindness toward Annie and Kate, and I still liked her very much in this story. She continues to show that kindness and generosity toward Jack and Daniel, and it's Jack who in turn helps her see that's she's special just the way she is without any of the trappings she sometimes puts on.
Jack used to live in the mountains where he was married to a half-Cheyenne woman who passed away when Daniel was just an infant, leaving him a single father. He has a business making saddles and tack for horses and decided to move closer to town, both to attract more business and so Daniel could attend school. He meets Charmine briefly at a tea party at Kate's and then again later, at the schoolhouse, where she volunteers to help build the school's float, after which he insists upon escorting her home. When she come to his farm to work on the float, they start getting to know one another, but after seeing her seemingly put on airs when interacting with fancier folks in town, he thinks that she may be two-faced. However, when he has some rather direct words for her about that, he realizes that he's hurt her and that she's actually far more than he originally thought. Jack is a good hero and a great father. Although his directness may have stung Charmaine a little, it also opened her eyes to a few things in her life that needed a bit of changing. Not to mention, his more passionate side and the attention he gives her makes her realize that she shouldn't settle for anything less in a husband than what Annie and Kate have.
Overall, "Almost a Bride" was a nice wrap-up to this series. I was happy to finally read Charmaine's story and I think Jack was a good match for her. Theirs is a sweet romance with a few tender moments and no objectionable content to speak of, making it appropriate for most audiences. My only real complaint is that the story just didn't seem quite long enough. A large part of the plot focuses on Charmaine and her coming to the realization that she's good enough just the way she is and that she doesn't have to try so hard. In this regard, her characterization was well done, but I couldn't help feeling like Jack got a little bit lost in the shuffle. He's a good and likable character as well, but his characterization doesn't go quite as deep. Their romance mostly consists of getting to know you moments and a couple of passionate kisses. Because Charmaine waits until close to the end of the story to officially break things off with her other beau, the ending felt rather rushed with Jack's proposal seemingly coming from out of nowhere. But in spite of the perceived weaknesses, I did still enjoy this novella, and now that I've finished the Copper Creek Brides, I look forward to delving into Cheryl St. John's backlist. "Almost a Bride" can be found in the anthology Wed Under Western Skies.
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