When their brother-in-law misreads an order for bridles, Matty Craig and her three sisters find themselves heading west to become mail-order brides. Upon their arrival in the little frontier town of Lickwind though, they discover that they're not what rancher James Collingswood ordered at all. Still, James can't help feeling responsible for the women and with no trains passing through heading back east for nine days, they'll need a place to stay. He and his brother, Luke, take them to their ranch, where the ladies settle in quite nicely. Even though James insists that this rough land is no place for gently bred ladies, Matty and her sisters have no intention of going back east. Instead, they provide their hosts with all the cooking, sewing, and feminine help they've been missing. Soon every eligible man in the area comes a courtin', and James finds himself feeling a might jealous of anyone paying too much attention to Matty. In fact, he's starting to feel downright possessive. She's everything he could want in a wife and more, but just as he's starting to come to terms with his feelings and embrace the idea of her and her sisters staying, their brother-in-law comes looking for his money and won't allow James to marry Matty unless he pays one hundred fifty dollars, a price that James simply can't afford.
From Halter to Altar was a charming, sweet romance that was a great start to the quartet of interconnected inspirational novellas in the anthology A Bride for a Bit. It gives us an introduction to the four Craig sisters, each of whom will get her HEA in one of the stories. IMO, Cathy Marie Hake did a great job of setting up the overall story arc and acquainting the reader with each of the sisters and the circumstances that brought them west to the little frontier town of Lickwind. As it happens, their brother-in-law who was eager to be rid of them, misread an order for bridles and thought he could make a fortune by sending them as mail-order brides. They disembark from the train to find they're not what the hero was expecting at all, but thankfully for them, he and his brother are two of the few gentlemen in this tiny, one-horse town. Feeling responsible for them, the brothers take the four sisters to their ranch for safe-keeping until other arrangements can be made.
This first novella primarily belongs to the oldest sister, Matty, and James, the man who placed the order for the bridles. Matty has a take-charge attitude without being the least bit annoying. She sees herself as responsible for her sisters and takes their situation in stride. Some might see it as life handing them lemons, but considering how poorly their brother-in-law treated them, she sees it as a potential blessing in disguise. Along with her sisters, she comes up with a plan to stay put in Lickwind and move into town, where they'll set up shop to earn their keep, while hopefully entertaining suitors and eventually finding husbands, as there seems to be no shortage of eligible men in the area. In the meantime, they take extremely good care of their hosts. It doesn't take long before Matty finds herself falling for James, but he keeps insisting that the rugged frontier is no place for genteel ladies like her and her sisters. He doesn't want them to go back to their brother-in-law any more than they do, but he still insists on sending them someplace safe as soon as it can be arranged. In the meantime, it's hilarious how he keeps fending off all the men who come calling, while stubbornly refusing to acknowledge how jealous he feels, particularly when one pays special attention to Matty. I really like how protective James is, not only of Matty, but also of her sisters. He really looks out for all of them and treats them with kindness and respect. The author does a nice job of conveying the burgeoning feelings between James and Matty and making me feel the connection there. It might have been nice if they'd had a little more alone time, but I still believed in their growing love for one another.
Another thing I really liked is that Ms. Hake painted a good portrait of each of Matty's sisters. They all have their own individual personalities that shine through and make me very eager to read each of their stories. I just hope the other three authors do them justice and are equally good at weaving them all into the remaining stories. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor this author seems so deft at creating. I was smiling and chuckling many times throughout reading it. The animals, Ramon and Rhubarb, added another humorous touch, as well as showing the character's big hearts. I very much hope they turn up again in the other stories too. One last thing I really appreciated was that the faith message was very gentle and woven appropriately into the story, so that I never felt like I was being beaten over the head with it. This is just the way I like my inspirational romances and wish they all were written this way. From Halter to Altar was my first read by Cathy Marie Hake, but it has certainly left me interested in trying more of her work at some point. From Halter to Altar was originally published in the anthology A Bride for a Bit, along with its three companion novellas and was later reprinted in a larger anthology titled The Bartered Bride Collection.
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