Corrine Craig had no sooner discovered the happy news of her pregnancy than her husband of two years was killed by a freak storm. In her grief, she moved back to the family's dairy farm to be with her sisters. Two months later, she was on a train headed west to become a mail-order bride. Since coming to the Rough C's, the ranch owned by her sister Matty's new husband and his brother Luke, she's started to find a new purpose in life. Knowing that she'll soon have to provide for her unborn child and trying to be an independent woman, Corrie starts up a little baking business at the farmhouse. Men from all around the area come to buy her delicious baked goods. While many of them would like to court her, Corrie has no intention of marrying again so soon after her husband's death, because it seems disrespectful of their love and the life they shared. As her pregnancy progresses though, she has a bout of preterm labor that leaves her bedridden and completely dependent on her sisters' care.
Luke Collingswood took one look at Corrie when she disembarked from the train and fell head over heels for her. She's the sweetest and most delicate of the four Craig sisters. He would like nothing more than to wrap her in his arms and shield her from all harm, but he knows that the widow's heart is still broken. When Corrie's pregnancy takes a bad turn, he worries about her constantly but tries to place the well-being of her and her unborn child in God's hands. When he is finally able to see her again, it's like the sunshine has broken through on a cloudy day. Still, he keeps his feelings to himself, wondering if she'll ever heal and be able to accept him into her life as more than just a friend.
Luke and Corrine were my favorite secondary characters in From Halter to Altar, the first story in the A Bride for a Bit anthology, so I was really looking forward to reading about their romance. While From Carriage to Marriage was a good story, I didn't like it quite as well as the first one. In many ways, I felt like Luke and Corrie's personalities showed through a little more fully in From Halter to Altar than they did in their own story. In this one, both they and the entire story just seemed more subdued. Corrie is the only one of the Craig sisters who had been previously married. Her husband was a fisherman who was swept off his boat and drowned in a storm, leaving her pregnant and alone. She is also perceived as the most fragile of the sisters, and only came west with them because she couldn't bear to be separated from them. She's still grieving the loss of her husband, so she's not really looking at Luke in a romantic way for much of the story. Luke shares the duties of running the Rough C's ranch with his older brother, James. He's a real sweetheart who's had eyes for no one but Corrie since she stepped off the train. He wants to officially court her, but knows that she needs some space to heal from her loss.
As a frontier story of a woman in Corrie's circumstances, I thought From Carriage to Marriage was well-written and worked quite well, which is why I still gave it four stars. Where I had an issue though, is that this novella is supposed to be a romance, but nothing of a romantic nature happens until 2/3 of the way into the story. This is only a seventy-five page novella to begin with, so leaving the love and romance until the last twenty-five pages didn't really work well for me. Up to that point it's primarily about Corrie trying to find a measure of independence and a way to earn a living, believing that she'll soon be raising her baby on her own. It's also about the trials and travails of her pregnancy. During that time, we can see that Luke loves her from afar, but he keeps his feelings to himself. The two of them live in the same house and are friendly with one another, but it doesn't go much beyond that. Then they're separated for nearly a month when Corrie goes into preterm labor and must be on strict bed rest. Her sisters deem it improper for Luke to visit her room and will barely even talk to him about her condition. Even when they finally relent and allow him to see her, it's all done with the utmost propriety that doesn't allow for much beyond simple conversation. Their times together are so short and written with so little detail that it was hard to feel a satisfying and convincing connection building between them, especially on Corrie's side. All the way up until the final pages, she's still grieving over her husband and planning to leave the ranch to move into town to continue her bakery business. It's not until Luke indirectly declares his love while talking to her babies in her presence that she has a miraculous eleventh hour turnaround and decides to give him a chance. They don't ever say, "I love you" directly to one another, nor is there even a simple kiss to seal the deal. I'm totally OK with clean romances and I freely admit that maybe I've become too accustomed to historical romances in which the characters often push the boundaries of propriety a bit, but I felt like this one took the chasteness a little too far.
Aside from feeling some disappointment with the development of the romantic relationship, From Carriage to Marriage was still a good story. Luke and Corrie were both very likable characters and I enjoyed seeing more of Corrie's sisters and Luke's brother, James. James and Matty are still playing the happy newlyweds. I was a little sad that the animals didn't play as much of a role in this story, and that this one wasn't as light and humorous as the first one. I'm sure that's the result of two different authors who have completely different visions and writing styles. The faith message in this one was a little more overt than in the last one, but still tolerable to me and not what I would call preachy. It was, however, a bit too magical for my taste, with the frustrating "if you pray and read your Bible enough, everything will be OK" message being used as a standard admonishment. In my personal experience this hasn't really proven true, but I could live with it since it wasn't being spouted every other page. So overall, I'd say I generally enjoyed From Carriage to Marriage, and now I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for the other two sisters. From Carriage to Marriage 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.
Janelle Burnham Schneider @ GoodReads
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