Sam Gatlin lost his entire family, except for a younger sister, when he was just a boy. He spent most of his life doing odd jobs and eventually fell into bounty hunting. His reputation is known far and wide and he's put many a criminal behind bars, leaving him with a number of enemies who'd like to see him dead. His existence had been a lonely one until he impulsively put his name in the hat at a wife lottery. He isn't sure why he did it, except that he was tired of being alone and one of the women being raffled off reminded him of an angel. He never expected to actually "win" her, but now that he has her, he isn't entirely sure what to do with her. After getting knifed in the back by one of his enemies the morning after their wedding, Sam barely escapes with his life, and without the help of his new wife, he'd probably be dead. He knows he has to do something to keep her safe, so he makes a plan to take her to a small homestead he owns but hasn't visited in a long time. He'll make sure she's set up there and then continue on with his work. But the more time he spends with his new bride, the more he realizes just how hard it will be to leave her when the time comes. Still, deep down, he believes it's for the best, but Sarah has other ideas that just might make him change his mind.
Her whole life, Sarah Andrews has felt abandoned by everyone who's ever meant anything to her. Raised by two women she wasn't even related to, she found herself married to an older neighbor when the second woman died. Her husband never truly loved her and made the decision to head west without even consulting her. Then after her husband and newborn baby died of a fever, she was kicked off the wagon train because she was ill, too. After helping her two friends kill a man in self-defense, they turned themselves in at the nearest sheriff's office. Disinclined to press charges, the sheriff instead concocted a plan to raffle the women off to any man who could pay their fines. Sarah willingly weds Sam, hoping he'll be better than her first husband, but when he gets knifed in the back in a saloon the very next morning and she later discovers three kids who claim to be his, she wonders just what kind of man she's actually married. Still, she believes it's her duty as a wife to "love" her husband in spite of his flaws. After nursing him back to health, they barely stay one step ahead of the man who nearly killed him and who presents a danger not only to Sam but everyone he loves. Along the way, Sam does a fairly respectable job of courting Sarah and coaxing her into his arms, and with a little luck, he might just make her genuinely fall in love with him.
When a Texan Gambles is the second book in Jodi Thomas's Wife Lottery series about three women who were thrown off their wagon train. They banded together, and while searching for the nearest town before running out of supplies, they were accosted by a man who tried to steal what little they had left. In the process of defending themselves, they believed they'd killed the man, so they turned themselves in to the sheriff as soon as they finally found a town. With no body, the sheriff had nothing he could charge them with, and with so few women in the area, he knew the men in town wouldn't stand for keeping the women in jail. However, the women were insistent they needed to be punished, so he concocted a scheme, where he assessed a fine against them instead, then held a lottery. Any man who could pay their fine could put their name in the hat and the winners would then get a bride.
This second book is about Sarah, the weakest of the group of women, who is still recovering from a fever that took her husband and newborn baby just before she was tossed out of the wagon train for being sick herself. Her groom is Sam Gatlin, a legendary bounty hunter who has half the outlaws in Texas gunning for him. The morning after the two are married, Sam gets knifed in the back, leaving Sarah with the duty of pulling out the knife, getting her new husband safely out of town, and doctoring him until he recovers enough to tell her where to go. Afterward, they share several more adventures, including Sam getting shot after being found by another group of outlaws and them rescuing a trio of homeless waifs who claim he's their father. Along the way, Sam tries to court his new wife, while staying one step ahead of the outlaw who knifed him, a mean, dangerous SOB named Reeves who has a history of torturing and murdering innocent young women. Even if he can take out Reeves, Sam knows that the life he leads will always present a danger to both himself and Sarah if anyone recognizes him and figures out where he lives. Not to mention, Sarah has a fear of him abandoning her, so the long days he would have to spend on the road hunting criminals wouldn't be ideal. Sam will have his work cut out for him, keeping his new bride safe and creating a happy life for her.
After losing all his family except for a younger sister when he was still just a boy, Sam spent years doing a variety of jobs that eventually led to him becoming a bounty hunter. He's made a good living at this solitary pursuit, but it's left him lonely and longing for companionship. When he heard about the wife lottery, Sam impulsively threw his name in the hat and couldn't believe his luck when he won his favorite of the bunch, a beauty who reminds him of an angel. However, she's none too eager to share his bed on their wedding night. Then the next morning, he gets himself knifed by an outlaw he's been hunting. With Sarah's help, he barely makes it out of the saloon before falling unconscious. He awakens several days later in a place he's had supplies delivered to in the past and finds that Sarah has done a respectable job of nursing him back to health. But when she starts raving about three kids who are his and nowhere to be found, he thinks he might have married a crazy woman. Eventually they find the children and share in other adventures, but along the way, Sam knows he needs to get Sarah someplace safe before his life as a bounty hunter catches up to them and brings harm to her. Despite his status as a hardened bounty hunter, Sam has a sweet, gentle side. When Sarah makes him promise not to bed her until she's ready in exchange for saving his life, he patiently waits, while slowly warming her up with kisses and tender caresses. Overall, I loved Sam except for one brief scene where he gets tired of waiting and basically tells Sarah that she's ready and orders her to bed. Admittedly he'd gotten pretty sexually frustrated by that time, and Sarah did stand up to him, pulling his own gun on him, but I couldn't help wondering what might have happened if their friend Jacob hadn't unwittingly interrupted them. It also seemed to come from out of nowhere and was out of character for the man we'd seen up to that point. But at least I can say that after things calmed down, he went right back to being the same sweet Sam.
Sarah has spent her entire life feeling abandoned by everyone who meant anything to her. When she was still quite small, her mother left her on the doorstep of a woman who had no use for kids, so when Sarah was six, she, in turn, handed her over to an elderly lady named Granny Vee, who finished raising her. Then Granny Vee died, leaving Sarah alone, so a neighboring farmer took her as his wife. Their marriage was never based in genuine love and her husband treated her more as someone to simply care for his home and warm his bed, giving little in return. After losing everything during a poor year for crops, her husband made the choice to head west in search of greener pastures, but along the way, he succumbed to a fever and the baby she'd just given birth to died as well. If not for her two friends, Bailee and Lacy, Sarah probably would have died, too. When the sheriff made his decision about the wife lottery, Sarah willingly accepted his verdict, hoping for a better husband than the one she had before. But when her new groom turns up in a saloon with a knife in his back the morning after their wedding and later she finds three children who claim to be his, she believes she's married a drunken, womanizing lout who's a magnet for danger. Despite that, Sarah believes it's her duty to "love" her husband, flaws and all, but the more she gets to know him, the more she realizes that he truly is a good man and begins to genuinely fall in love with him. As they face down one danger after another, she also gradually come to view herself as a much stronger woman than she ever thought she was. Sarah is a sweet heroine with insecurities, but with Sam's encouragement, she grows into a better version of herself, while slowly coming to trust that Sam won't abandon her like everyone else has. She also finds the courage to stand by her man and help him win the day against the outlaw Reeves.
Overall, When a Texan Gambles is a great story. Sam is a bit rough around the edges, never having had a woman to bring any softness into his life. When the loneliness gets the best of him, he knows he wants someone to share his life with, even though he's aware that he's not good enough for the likes of an angel like Sarah. Sarah has been through a lot in her life and just wants someone to truly love her and treat her like she belongs to him. Together, they make a well-matched couple whose story is engaging and adventurous. I came very close to giving the book the full five stars, but that one slip-up from Sam was rather bothersome in the moment and so out of character for him that I couldn't quite reconcile it with the man he was both before and after. One other reason I dropped the half-star is that for a book that was released by a major publishing house, it contained a surprising number typos and other errors that could be rather distracting. I was also slightly disappointed that Bailee and Lacy didn't make any appearances. The only common character is Jacob, a Texas Ranger who appeared in the first book and who becomes the hero of the fourth and final book of the series, The Texan's Reward. Other than my couple of minor complaints, though, I very much enjoyed the story and look forward to continuing the series.
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