Bertie Craig is the youngest of the Craig sisters. As the baby of the family, she's always felt like her older sisters treat her differently. She longs to be included in their sisterly conversations and activities, but usually feels somewhat left out. This is partly because she's a tomboy, who is more at home on the back of a horse or in the great outdoors than sewing and baking. She's never worried much about her appearance or her behavior until handsome, young Thomas Hardin comes to town, making her want to act more like a lady to catch his eye.
Eight years ago, Thomas left Lickwind under a dark cloud, after his father was accused of cattle rustling. Since then, he's worked hard to make something of himself, before coming home. He doesn't expect the town to welcome him with open arms, but he no sooner returns than ills start to befall him. Someone is sneaking around destroying his property, while a mysterious benefactor is making anonymous deposits to his bank account. They're mysteries he'd like solved, but in the meantime, Bertie's transformation from a tomboy to a pretty young lady has piqued his interest. Thomas isn't in any hurry to marry, but he always thought that if and when he did, he'd want a gently bred bride from back East. So why is it that he can't seem to get Bertie off his mind?
From Alarming to Charming is the fourth and final novella in the A Bride for a Bit anthology. It tells the story of Bertie, the youngest Craig sister, who becomes interested in Thomas, a guy who seems to be a newcomer to town but who she quickly learns has a past in the area. Soon that past comes back to haunt him, as someone in town makes it clear that they don't want him there by destroying his property, while an anonymous benefactor makes deposits to his bank account, leaving him with two mysteries to solve.
Bertie hates being the youngest in the family, because she feels like her sisters have always treated her differently. Where her sisters behaved like proper ladies, Bertie has always been a tomboy. She'd much prefer to be out riding horses and building things than inside baking and sewing. When Thomas comes to town and catches Bertie's eye, she realizes she needs to start being more ladylike if she has any hope of attracting his attention. Bertie does a lot of growing up in this story. She goes from still seeming like a carefree teenage girl to a more refined young lady, but she doesn't lose her sense of adventure in the process. I also liked that much like Bess, she's a woman who isn't afraid to stand up for what's right, defending her decision to allow a Chinese girl, the daughter of Thomas' servant, to attend school after she takes over teaching duties from Bess. Unfortunately, she still had to bow to the town's wishes, but she generously continued to teach the girl by tutoring her on weekends.
Thomas left Lickwind years ago under the dark cloud of his father being accused of cattle rustling. He didn't expect the town to welcome him back with open arms when he returned, but mysterious things, both good and bad, start happening that make him wonder what's going on. On top of that he can't seem to stop thinking about the little tomboy who turned into a pretty lady. Thomas doesn't really have any designs on marriage. He just wants to get his new ranch up and running properly, but Bertie starts to change his mind on the idea of having a woman around.
From Alarming to Charming got off to a really good start, drawing me in almost immediately. It had a somewhat lighthearted quality to it, like a couple of the other stories in the series, but also a touch of mystery surrounding the things that are happening to Thomas. I liked the early progression of Thomas and Bertie's relationship. It seemed natural, as they spend some time around each other and begin to think of one another often. I also liked that Ms. Tracy gives the reader a slight touch of physical attraction between them. The issue I had, though, with the romance is that things are just beginning to get interesting between Thomas and Bertie, when the story veers back to the mystery plot. After that nothing more happens on the romance front except the author telling that they did indeed get married - no touching, no kissing, no nothing. This was kind of disappointing and pretty much the same issue I had with the second novella, too much outside plot and not enough romance, especially for such a short story.
Otherwise, From Alarming to Charming was still an enjoyable read, when taken as a frontier story. The writing was solid and it was a fairly entertaining read. The faith message was pretty much on par with the second novella as well, a bit more overt than the other two, but still not what I would call preachy. Overall, I liked both the characters and the story, so I would count it as a pretty good novella. This was my first read by Pamela Kaye Tracy, but it has left me open to trying more of her work. From Alarming to Charming 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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