Lonely rancher Matt Breen wants a wife to share his life. But he lives in the middle of nowhere with only his father and two brothers for company, and female companionship is difficult to find. After picking up a lonely hearts newsletter, he decides to correspond with some of the ladies featured in it, but only one truly catches his fancy. After exchanging several letters and meeting only once face-to-face, he writes the most important letter of his life which contains a proposal. When Annie answers back with a yes, Matt couldn't be happier, until the day of their wedding when she drops the bombshell that she's pregnant with another man's baby. With guests already arriving, he decides to go ahead with the ceremony, but once he's tied to her, he just can't seem to get past the idea of having to raise a child that isn't his.
Annie Lane grew up under the watchful eye of a strict grandmother, but since she died, Annie has been all alone. The letters the school librarian exchanges with Matt help to fill some of the loneliness in her own life. But before things ever became serious between them, a night out on the town and a few too many drinks resulted in Annie losing her virginity and becoming pregnant all in one night. She'd only recently found out about her condition, and the father wants nothing more to do with her or her unborn child. While she's prepared to raise the baby alone if she has to, she'd much rather the child have a father. When Matt proposes marriage, she eagerly accepts, thinking it's a godsend. Not wanting to lose him, she considers not telling Matt and trying to pass the child off as his, but at the last minute, her conscience gets the better of her. She fully expects him to turn his back on her, so when he insists that they go through with the marriage after all, she's more than grateful. But afterward, he turns cold and distant. Can she find a way to reach her new husband's closed off heart so that they can become a loving family, or will Matt refuse to see her child as anything more than an unwanted burden?
Annie in the Morning is the first book in Curtiss Ann Matlock's Breen Men series, and it's been on my TBR pile for quite a while. I can't recall exactly where I first heard about it, but I seem to remember it coming with a favorable recommendation. It's also won some awards, including a Rita and has pretty good ratings at online book sites. Not to mention, the cover blurb sounded like a story that I would probably enjoy. I'm a sucker for the mail-order bride trope, and this one has a more modern mail-order bride vibe with Annie and Matt meeting via letters they exchange through a lonely hearts newsletter. I also love pregnancy stories and ones where the hero comes to love a child that isn't biologically his. This book has all of these tropes, but in spite of that, I came away from reading it with a meh feeling. It just wasn't nearly as good as I expected from a multiple award winning book or from one that has generally good ratings and reviews from other readers.
Matt and Annie both subscribe to a lonely hearts newsletter and begin writing to one another. After exchanging a number of letters and meeting in person once, Matt has fallen for Annie and writes to ask her to marry him. She accepts, and on their second meeting, he comes to move her belongings and get her settled on his ranch. However, she hasn't yet told him that she's eight weeks pregnant by another man, a bombshell that she drops on their wedding day, minutes before the ceremony is about to begin. Matt is shocked and angry but decides to go ahead with the wedding anyway. Then he leaves Annie alone at their honeymoon hotel and spends the next day and a half in a drunken stupor. When he finally calms down, his love for her wins out enough to make him decide to give things a try. But every time they're together, he can't stop thinking about her carrying another man's baby in her belly. Even after the baby is born, he can't seem to make himself care for the child, but when faced with the possibility of losing both Annie and the baby, he finally realizes how much they've both come to mean to him.
Matt is a rancher who is surrounded by men all day long with little female influence in his life. His mother died years earlier, so he lives on the ranch with his father and two younger brothers, all of whom contribute to the day-to-day operations of their family business. However, living out in the-middle-of-nowhere New Mexico with nothing but a tiny town that has only the bare necessities nearby, women of his age are virtually non-existent. At thirty years old, Matt has started to think of settling down, so he begins corresponding with women via the lonely hearts newsletter. Annie is the only one who really stands out to him, so he's extremely excited when he receives her letter accepting his marriage proposal. He finally seems to have the woman of his dreams, but then after she drops her bombshell, Matt is angry and can't seem to find his way back to that loving place they once had.
For the first few chapters I liked Matt, but after that I had a lot of issues with him. He's supposed to be a shy guy who isn't very suave with the ladies, but most of the time, he came off as a clueless jerk alpha to me. I know that he was placed in a difficult and awkward position by Annie's big reveal, but he's supposedly a smart, logical guy and moving forward with the wedding just because the guests are already arriving and he doesn't want things to look bad was just plain prideful. It seems to me that they should have canceled the wedding and waited to see if they could work things out first. Of course, they don't, and then he stays drunk for the next couple of days, basically punishing Annie. It only got worse when he finally returned to their hotel room, because then he started manhandling a pregnant woman and threatening to exercise his "husbandly rights," which in my book is akin to a rape threat. If he hadn't fallen down drunk and passed out, I have no doubt that he would have. After that he vacillates between a few more tender moments that never last long and giving Annie the cold shoulder. Nearly every time he starts to get close to her, he ends up pulling back, or if he does follow through, he won't go near her belly like she's carrying a disease or something. The first time they made love before he knew she was pregnant, he was good to her even though he doesn't have a lot of experience, but the couple of times he makes love to her while she's pregnant, he doesn't even bother to give her any pleasure, which felt retaliatory to me. Then when she has medical complications that put her on bed rest for most of the pregnancy, he's resentful that he's not getting to do the things he wants to do with her or getting any sex. After the baby comes, it's no better, with him actively feeling jealous of the baby because the little one is taking up so much of Annie's time. The few things he does do for her felt more like they were out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine love, care, and concern. I know it would probably be difficult for a man to be put in a situation like this, but I expect a romantic hero to work through his feelings instead of ignoring them. For me to really enjoy a romance, it's imperative that I be able to fall for the hero, and I'm sorry to say that Matt just didn't float my boat.
Annie never really knew her father and her mother died when she was a child, so she was raised by a strict grandmother who rarely showed her any affection. Although she loved her grandmother, she wasn't necessarily regretful when the old woman died. However, that left Annie completely alone in the home they'd shared in a small Oklahoma town. The one thing that she loves, though, is her job as a school librarian. She lives for books and words, so it wasn't surprising that she'd start a romance by corresponding with a man, and she comes to love Matt dearly through his letters. But before that happened, she went out to a bar. The alcohol loosened her inhibitions, leading to her losing her virginity and getting pregnant all in one night. The baby's father wants nothing to do with the child or her, so she's thrilled when Matt proposes, because her baby will have a good father after all. But Annie agonizes over whether to tell him or to simply let him think the baby is his. Finally her conscience gets the better of her and she fesses up on their wedding day. She's prepared to leave and surprised when he wants to go ahead with the ceremony, but hurt when he's so cold to her afterward. After he calms down and tells her he wants to try to make it work, she vows to be the best wife he could ever want. But when he still can't seem to accept her child months later, and by extension, it feels like a rejection of herself, she isn't sure what the future might hold for them.
Annie is a sweet heroine who didn't irritate me quite as much as Matt did, but she does have a healthy dose of old-school submissiveness. I admit that she should have told him about the baby as soon as she knew and not waited until the wedding day to make her confession, but her mistake doesn't mean that she should have had to put up with what I saw as Matt's emotional abuse. However, she spends the better part of the story walking on eggshells around him, trying to make him happy, and making excuses when he behaves badly toward her and the baby. At one point, she contemplates the possibility that she might have to leave for both their sakes if he can't come to love the baby, but then later, she decides that it's better for her baby to have a father, even one who can't accept him as his own, than to have no father at all, which made no sense to me. Very late in the story, after a sleepless night with the baby, Annie finally loses her temper at Matt and gives him a piece of her mind about his treatment of them, which made me cheer for her, but my elation was dashed two pages later when she apologizes, saying that she was the one who was being unfair. Ugh! I didn't completely dislike Annie, but I really wish she'd had more of a backbone.
As you can probably tell by now, Annie in the Morning didn't really do a whole lot for me. It was just an OK read. I still rated it three stars because I reluctantly admit that it wasn't too much of a chore to read, although I might have had to reassess if it had been a longer book. I also kept reading to find out just what it was going to take to knock some sense into Matt's mule-headed brain. This tells me that it was pretty well-written for the type of story that it is. It just wasn't my kind of story. Although it wasn't completely devoid of an emotional connection between Matt and Annie, with there being so much distance between them for nearly the entire book, it was hard to feel much love. I mainly just felt a healthy dose of frustration toward both of them, and didn't feel like there was a whole lot of actual romance to speak of. I did like the family connection with Matt's father, Jesse, and his brothers, Rory and Oren. Although the brothers don't know the truth about the baby, Jesse does, and he's very accepting, both of Annie and the baby once he arrives, immediately calling him his grandson. This only made me more wistful, wondering why Matt couldn't do the same. Jesse becomes the hero of the second book, Last of the Good Guys. Although I can't say that I got particularly excited about Rory, Oren is a sweet charmer. Rory is the hero of book #3, True Blue Hearts, and Oren is the hero of the final book, Summertime. Annie in the Morning is the first book I've read by Curtiss Ann Matlock, but after this lackluster read, the jury is out on whether I'll be continuing the series, especially since the remaining books have lower ratings, which makes me rather leery. All I can say is we'll see. Annie in the Morning was originally published in the Silhouette Special Edition romance line, but was later reprinted in the special Silhouette Here Come the Grooms series of reissued favorites.
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