Gentle widow, Faith Randolph, took her young daughter, Charity, and fled her wealthy, pampered life in Brooklyn to escape a cruel and manipulative father. Her first marriage had been nothing more than a loveless business arrangement, so when Faith's father tries to marry her off a second time to an elderly man who wants to send Charity away to boarding school, she decides to run away and start a new life. They made it as far a No Name, Colorado, where all Faith's money was stolen, and she found herself rummaging in trash bins for food and sleeping in a livery stable. Half-starved and worried about her daughter's well-being, Faith goes looking around town for gainful employment, and encounters a peddler who insists that she take a beautiful wedding gown that he hasn't been able to sell. After reluctantly accepting the generous gift, Faith sees an advertisement for a housekeeper in the general store window, which she would have sworn was not there before. The store keeper says the ad is months old and the position has likely already been filled, but he points her in the direction of a ranch belonging to Patrick O'Shannessy, the man who placed the notice.
At first Patrick doesn't want to hire Faith, thinking she is too young and dainty to make a good ranch housekeeper, but when the miles-long walk from town on an empty stomach causes Faith to collapse in Patrick's front yard, the compassionate man in him can do nothing else but tend to both mother and daughter. When Faith is recovered, Patrick hires her anyway, but it soon becomes clear that the pampered city girl doesn't have the first idea how to perform her duties. Faith refuses to stay without pulling her own weight, but Patrick knows the only other job available in town is for a saloon girl. Since his honor will not allow him to place a needy woman and child in that kind of position, Patrick strikes a risky bargain to keep Faith and Charity with him, but her ruthless father will stop at nothing to get them back.
Beautiful Gifts is yet another winning story from Catherine Anderson. It is the first novella I have read by her, but I thought it had enough substance to rival her full-length novels. I loved this story of two wounded people finding the healing and love they so richly deserved in each other's arms. Faith was a very admirable heroine. She was a city girl, born and bred, who I thought exhibited strength of character to leave her cold, cruel father in an attempt to make a new life for herself and her young daughter away from his influence. She was also a loving, caring mother who was willing to do anything to keep her daughter fed and protected. Patrick had not always been a very nice character in Keegan's Lady, the previous book in this series, where he first appeared, but his part in that story had ended on a high note, giving me the feeling that a happy ending was in the works for him. I thought that Ms. Anderson redeemed him very nicely by having him show a great deal of remorse for his past actions and in the process, demonstrated the true power of forgiveness. By the time this novella commences, he has returned to being the kind, caring person that he was in his youth, and that I suspected still lurked beneath the surface even in his darker moments.
The one and only thing that I thought might have made the story better would have been a slightly more detailed love scene for them. Normally, the subtle nature of the love scene would have been just fine with me, and it certainly was mild enough to be appropriate for younger and more sensitive readers. However, much had been made of Faith's first husband having insulted her skills as a lover, and she was greatly lacking confidence in that area. I think that a little more details in that scene, not just physically but emotionally as well, would have made it more believable to me that her confidence was being restored. Otherwise, this was a near-perfect sweet romance that definitely left me with a very satisfied feeling, another surprising short-story keeper.
Beautiful Gifts is the second story in Catherine Anderson's Keegan/Paxton Families series (or Coulter Historical series as it is sometimes called). The first book is Keegan's Lady and all of the main characters in that story make an appearance in Beautiful Gifts, including Ace and Caitlin, the hero and heroine, as well as Joseph, Esa, and David Paxton. Joseph Paxton becomes the hero of book #3, Summer Breeze, and Ms. Anderson is hard at work on another book in the series which will possibly be released sometime next year. I am very much looking forward to continuing this heart-warming family western series. Beautiful Gifts can be found in The True Love Wedding Dress anthology.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook