Carefree bachelor Jason Manning has watched as each of his four siblings succumbed to love and matrimony. A part of him wants what they share with their spouses, but he's having too much fun being single to think of settling down anytime soon. Not to mention, he's a sports nut and a slob, and he worries most women would try to change what they'd view as his errant ways. His opinion on a serious relationship changes when teenage matchmaker, Charity Weston comes to his veterinary office, offering to pay him to take her mother out on a date. It seems the mother and daughter live in the apartment complex Jason owns, and although he barely remembers renting the apartment to them, Charity thinks he'd be a good candidate for the job. Jason is floored by her offer, but flat-out refuses on ethical grounds. Charity leaves his office disappointed, but later that evening she pulls a small stunt to get him over to their apartment. Once he gets a good look at Charity's mom, Jason's interest is finally piqued.
Charlotte Weston is a single mother, who's stuck in a job she hates. After suffering through a terrible marriage when she was rather young, she has no interest in getting involved with another man. Her husband put her down so many times, she's convinced she'd be inadequate as both a wife and a lover, so rather than take a chance on any man, she's totally avoided the dating scene. Handsome Jason is the first man who has ever tempted her to break her self-imposed dating drought, and once she opens the door a crack, he waltzes into her life in a very loving and seductive way. Not to mention, he has devoted parents and siblings who could give Charlotte and her daughter the family she's always dreamed of but never had. Jason makes her want to believe that everything her husband told her was a lie, but when his well-meaning but overbearing family railroads them into a quick marriage so that his parents can finally have the big wedding they've always wanted, she instantly gets cold feet. Can Jason finally convince Charlotte that she's everything a man could ever want in a wife?
Bride on the Loose is the third story in Debbie Macomber's Those Manning Men series, and I'd have to say it's probably my favorite in the series so far. Carefree bachelor, Jason Manning was the last of the Manning men still standing, but he's finally brought to his knees by a little thing called love, when a matchmaking teenager tries to fix him up with her mom in hopes that having a man in her life will make her mom more lenient about her dating. Jason wasn't too pleased about this and turned the girl down flat, until her machinations brought him and her mother together, leading them to discover they had some things in common. Unfortunately, his new lady love is quite skittish due to a terrible first marriage in which she was abused. This doesn't stop Jason from marrying her and finally giving his family their hoped-for big wedding to attend, but the occasion isn't quite the joyous one it should be when the bride gets cold feet.
Jason has a breezy attitude and tends to be a pretty easy-going guy for the most part. He's a caring veterinarian who gets to save the day by rescuing and treating a badly injured dog that the heroine and her daughter found in the street. When he's not working, Jason is a sports nut who spends nearly all his free time either watching every sport imaginable on TV or playing softball on a team with his brothers. There was one point early in the story when I had misgivings about Jason, because he made a few off-handed comments that seemed rather chauvinistic and which gave me unpleasant memories of his sister's hero, Russ (The Cowboy's Lady). Even though I wasn't terribly amused, I think it was meant to be a humorous battle of the sexes conversation. Other than this incident and one on his wedding day when Jason got extremely ticked off at Charlotte when she told him lies out of fear, with the intention of stopping the wedding, Jason was a pretty good guy who was patient and gentle. Early on in their relationship, it was rather cute how he started falling in love with Charlotte and didn't even realize it at first. He's essentially the consummate bachelor who spends some time protesting his own feelings, but once he makes up his mind, he's pretty much unstoppable. At the end, when Charlotte finally fessed up about everything that happened in her first marriage, Jason was very kind and compassionate.
Charlotte is a single mother who's been through a lot in her life. Her father walked out on her and her mother, and then her mother died when she was only a teenager. She ended up marrying young, and it was an awful marriage that caused her heartache and heartbreak in so many ways. The only good thing that came out of it was her daughter, Carrie, and now that she's divorced, the two of them are basically alone in the world. That doesn't stop Charlotte from longing for a family to call her own, but she was so traumatized by her first husband that she's avoided men like the plague until her daughter decides that her mom needs a man in her life and approaches Jason, who is their landlord, about filling the position. From the beginning, Charlotte is unperturbed by Jason's love of sports and him being a slob. She even held her own when Jason made his lame comments about women. She's also an excellent mother, who obviously adores children and would dearly love to have more. However, the abuse she suffered has made her extremely nervous around men and also something of a people pleaser, who has to learn to stand up for herself and that she's not the woman her husband led her to believe she was.
Since Jason is the last Manning sibling to get married and the only one to have a big wedding, of course, the entire Manning clan is on hand. Still, it was primarily Paul and Leah (Stand-In Wife) and Rich and Jamie (Marriage of Inconvenience), who played the strongest roles, and it was nice to see them and their growing families. As far as I can tell, Debbie Macomber's characters never ever have sex outside of marriage, so it's always amusing to see what schemes she'll come up with next to get her couple hitched quickly before falling into bed (although the door is always closed on these scenes). This time, the well-meaning but overbearing Manning parents played a role in that. Despite how ridiculous some of these scenarios are, I somehow still manage to enjoy the story in the end.
Overall, I really liked Bride on the Loose. I think the only thing that could have made it better is if it had been a bit longer to develop the characters and plot a little more fully. Because of the emotional nature of Charlotte's past, it isn't quite as light and breezy as some of the other stories in the series have been, but it was still a fairly easy read. Now I'm looking forward to finding out what's in store for Christy's ex-fiancé and family friend, James, in the final full-length novel of the series, Same Time, Next Year. Bride on the Loose was originally published as a stand-alone novel in the Silhouette Special Edition line, and was later reprinted in the single-author anthology The Manning Grooms along with the fourth book of the series.
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