As the black sheep of the family, Nate Justice left home years ago to seek his fortune in the West. The only person who ever treated him with any kindness was his older brother, Jacob, but Nate recently received word that his beloved brother passed on over a year ago. Jacob's final wish was for Nate to care for his widow and young daughter. Nate reluctantly agreed, but has been having second thoughts. Jacob was always the best of people, but with his checkered past, Nate doesn't believe himself to be good husband and father material. Then Clara shows up before he can send his letter changing his mind. He goes through with marrying her, but believing she's a paragon of virtue who's still in love with Jacob, he intends it to be a marriage in name only even though having the beautiful lady in his home is wreaking havoc on his resolve.
With nowhere else to go and no way to care for her daughter, Clara Justice agreed to her husband's last wish to become Nate's bride. When she meets Nate, she experiences a deep attraction like she's never felt before. But Clara has a secret past of her own that always made her feel unworthy of a good man like Jacob, and she fears what Nate might think if he finds out the truth. When she discovers the rejection letter he wrote but never sent, she believes that her husband already told Nate everything and that's why he doesn't really want her. Can they get on the same page before a man from her past comes calling, presenting a threat to both her and her newfound love with Nate?
His Brother's Bride is a western romance novella about two people who are grieving the death of the same man. As the black sheep of his family, Nate set out to make his fortune on the western frontier, where he now owns the saloon and hardware store in Colorado City. Before his beloved older brother, Jacob, passed away, Jacob asked Nate to look after his wife, Clara, and daughter, Kitty. Although he has misgivings about bringing the paragon of virtue his brother described in his letters to the wild west and marrying her, Nate ends up going through with it anyway, but he doesn't feel worthy of her. Little does he know, though, that Clara has a past of her own that she's not proud of. She agreed to marry Jacob's brother, because she had no other way to provide for her daughter, but she fears he would reject her if he knew the truth about her. The two must find a way to get past their feelings of inadequacy in order to make a life together.
Nate was frequently the object of his father's harsh beatings, but Jacob often stood up for him, leaving Nate forever grateful to the big brother whom he idolized. But the kind Jacob became a minister in New York, while Nate went west in search of a different sort of life. He managed to make his fortune by setting up shop in mining towns and now owns the saloon and hardware store in the booming town of Colorado City. Although he's perhaps engaged in some questionable business practices to get ahead, deep down, he's a good man who cares about kids and stray cats. However, because of his past and the constant put-downs he received growing up, he doesn't feel worthy of Clara, whom Jacob described in nothing but the most glowing terms. He also doesn't think he knows anything about being a husband, so when Clara arrives, he marries her, but keeps his distance even though he's strongly attracted to her. I generally liked Nate, but felt like he spent a little too much time beating himself up over the past rather than trying to move forward into the future with Clara. Even when she finally comes clean about her own past, he doesn't really believe her and thinks it's just a story she concocted to make him feel better. I'm all for a good tortured hero, but he has to be willing to listen to his heroine and have a believable story arc and I didn't entirely feel that way about Nate.
Clara came from a large family. Her father left them destitute, and in a rather desperate state, she was hoodwinked as a teenager by a smooth talking stranger who promised marriage, but only wanted her to be a prostitute in a brothel he was planning to build. Although we don't get the details about how it happened, Jacob rescued her from that future and married her himself. Before Jacob died, he told her to go to Nate, that he needed her and would take care of her and Kitty. She arrives in Colorado City to find her prospective groom drunk (Nate isn't given to drinking as a habit, though. He was just nervous and having second thoughts about marrying her.), which doesn't leave a great first impression. However, there is sexual chemistry between them, something she'd never really experienced with Jacob, even though she loved him. But when she finds out that Nate was planning to rescind his proposal before she arrived, she thinks he doesn't want her, and because of her past, she feels just as unworthy of him as he does of her. A part of me sympathized with Clara for all that she'd been through in the past, but much like with Nate, I felt like she was engaging in a little to much self-flagellation. She'd been married to Jacob for several years and he'd never once judged her, so the idea that she seemingly hadn't experienced any emotional healing at all during that time was a bit too much to be believed. I also didn't care for her getting the reverend involved in her and Nate's personal life, and I didn't necessarily feel like she'd grown much by the end of the story. On the up side, though, she's a good mother to Kitty.
Overall, His Brother's Bride was a decent story, but it did fall down into the okay range for me. Like I mentioned, I greatly enjoy a good tortured hero or heroine, but I felt like Nate and Clara's issues were a little too much to address in this short format. Therefore, they didn't genuinely grow as characters by the end. I felt like they spent too much time mired in their own personal problems and fears of what the other would think about them instead of getting to know one another, given that they were complete strangers who'd just entered into a marriage of convenience. They don't really communicate well either, tending to make assumptions about the other rather than simply asking questions or engaging in discussion. A part of me understood their fears, but at some point, you just have to man up. Then when Clara finally worked up the courage to tell Nate, he doesn't want to listen and interrupts her with sexual overtures to try to shut her up, merely continuing on with his false assumptions. Their first (and only) love scene started out with Nate being angry (and rightfully so IMHO) with Clara for going to the reverend behind his back, which was just not to my taste. The scene lacked any real tenderness or emotion, yet Clara likes it more than she's ever liked sex before, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I'm okay with first love scenes not going perfectly, if I know there will be more to make up for it, but that was it, and it left me very unsatisfied. In addition, the dialogue and emotion throughout were very stilted. The dialog needed more contractions, because as written, it was far too formal for a western setting. And because Nate and Clara spend a large part of this fairly short novella keeping each other at arm's length, I just didn't feel much of an emotional connection between them.
His Brother's Bride wasn't a bad story per se, but it simply didn't float my boat the way I wanted it to. This novella is the second in Jenna Kernan's Winter Wild West Weddings Christmas novella series, but as far as I can tell, this is a themed series rather than one with common character connections. I'm also guessing that the author rewrote parts of it before releasing it as a separate ebook, because the version I read in the Wed Under Western Skies anthology, where it was originally published, has neither a winter setting nor a Christmas theme.
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