Noah Cutter was badly scarred in childhood. As a result, he rarely ventures away from his ranch and tends to avoid the company of others, instead choosing to live a solitary life. But when his younger brother, Levi's philandering ways catch up to him, leading to the loss of the only person who ever genuinely cared about him, Noah goes in search of the wife his brother left behind. Once found, he insists upon bringing her back to his ranch where he can take care of her and her unborn child, the only ties he has left to Levi. Noah has always considered himself to be ugly and unlovable, but Kate begins to challenge those long-held beliefs with her kindness and acceptance. So when local tongues begin wagging about Noah living with a widowed woman, he offers her a marriage of convenience, never intending for it to become anything more.
Katherine Cutter had her dreams of a happy marriage shattered by Levi, who left her with promises of seeking employment and a place to live, but never came back. Now that he's gone, she has nothing to look forward to in the future except working her fingers to the bone to survive and being a single mother to her child. After growing up that way herself, she wants more for her baby, so when Noah offers her a home and his protection, she can't refuse. Despite his scars, she finds herself falling for him and wanting to have a real marriage. However, the pampered life he's given her is one with which she is unfamiliar. All Kate really wants is to contribute in some small way, so when Noah holds her at arms length in their marriage and refuses to allow her to do anything around the ranch, Kate fears there is no place for her in his life and that he wants her child more than he wants her. Can Kate convince Noah that he really is a lovable man and can Noah let Kate into his solitary world, or will his past hurts and stubbornness keep them apart?
I was rather amused when I read Cheryl St. John's bio at the end of this book. It says: "A peacemaker, a romantic, an idealist, and a discouraged perfectionist are the words that Cheryl uses to describe herself." It also goes on to mention: "... she's been told that she is painfully honest." Since these are all words and phrases I would use to describe myself, I suspect that's why the first two of her stories I've read have resonated with me so strongly. His Secondhand Wife is a sweet, tender historical romance that follows on the heels of its predecessor in the Copper Creek Brides series, Sweet Annie. In this one, we have a scarred, brooding hero who can't stand people's stares, so he prefers to keep to himself, rarely ever leaving his ranch. But when his flighty, philandering younger brother gets himself killed, leaving a young pregnant wife behind, he takes it upon himself to look after her, never expecting to end up marrying her and falling in love. It was a really wonderful story that was a near-perfect read for me.
After being badly scarred in an accident during childhood, Noah has basically lived the life of a recluse. His father and stepmother couldn't stand the sight of him, and his stepmother, in particular, was pretty cruel toward him. The townspeople tend to stare as well, so Noah simply stays on his ranch, never leaving unless it's something that one of his hands can't take care of. Only his brother, Levi, genuinely accepted Noah, but Levi has been gone for years. When Noah gets word that Levi was shot and killed by a cuckolded husband, he isn't really surprised given Levi's history with the ladies, but it's a hard blow for him anyway. What does surprise him is that Levi left behind a pregnant wife, although she hasn't seen him in months. Noah views the woman and her unborn child as his responsibility and insists on taking her back to his ranch and providing for her. After tongues start wagging in town and his stepmother gets involved, Noah also offers to marry her, but he plans for it to be a marriage in name only. Noah may have a lot of visible scars, but he harbors many deep psychological ones that cannot be seen, as well. Because of the way his father and stepmother reacted to his appearance after the accident, he believes he is ugly and unlovable, so he hides behind a beard, long hair, a hat, and clothing as much as possible. But little by little, his new wife starts to change his mind. Noah is such a sweet man to take on his brother's wife and child, even though they disrupt his solitary, well-ordered life, and I very much admired him for it. Although he's a bit more brooding, he's a definite beta hero, as well as one of those rare virgin heroes in romance that I adore. I also think it's cute the way he marvels over Kate in his own mind and although he doesn't think he knows what to do with a woman, he figures it all out pretty well. He's definitely the type of kind, gentle man I could totally fall in love with.
Katherine experienced a whirlwind relationship with Levi that only lasted a few weeks before he headed out for parts unknown, claiming that he was looking for a job and a place for them to live, but he never came back. Then a dark, mysterious stranger who says he's Levi's brother, arrives at her door, telling Kate that her husband cheated on her, is now dead, and that she's coming with him to live on his ranch. While this might be a lot for some women to handle all at once, Kate is a pretty easy-going person who takes it all in stride. After growing up with no father, a critical single mother with whom she still lives, and working every day at the laundry just to make enough money for food and living quarters that are little more than a shack, she doesn't want that kind of life for her baby. Even though she doesn't know Noah, she figures that he's at least offering her a home and his protection, so it can't be any worse than what she's got now. As a matter of fact, it turns out to be a whole lot better than Kate ever could have hoped for, except that she's so pampered, there isn't really anything for her to do, which leaves her feeling like there's no place for her in Noah's life. She can't help thinking that he mainly only wants Levi's child and not her. Kate is a really sweet heroine, almost a tad too sweet at times, because she kind of allows Estelle, Levi's mother (and Noah's stepmother), to run roughshod over her. However, she doesn't like the way Estelle treats Noah, and I have to give Kate credit for finally putting the woman in her place near the end of the story. I also liked that she is accepting of Noah, scars and all, and isn't the least bit afraid of him.
His Secondhand Wife ties into the Copper Creek Brides series in part by being set in the little Colorado town of Copper Creek, but it also shares some common characters with Sweet Annie. Of course, Annie and Luke from that story play a pretty important role, particularly Annie, who becomes one of Kate's first friends. It was nice to see her and Luke so happy and expecting a second child while being such great parents to their first. Annie also now owns a successful dress shop, where Estelle insists upon buying new clothes to lavish upon Kate. Annie's cousin, Charmaine, also becomes a friend to Kate. In this one, she's eagerly - and impatiently - awaiting a proposal from her beau, and we get to see the outcome of that when she becomes the heroine of the final novella of the series, Almost a Bride from the Wed Under Western Skies anthology.
Overall, I very much enjoyed His Secondhand Wife. Just like the first book of the series, it's the type of story I could see being turned into a Hallmark movie. I waffled mightily between rating it 4.5 and 5 stars. It's truly my kind of book with characters I could definitely relate to, but I did get just a tad antsy at times with the way in which both Noah and Kate tend to misconstrue the other's words or actions rather than attacking the problem head-on and getting it out in the open. However, when I looked at each of their backgrounds and respective hang-ups, I did understand why they think some of the things they do. Even though he cares for Kate and can't believe his brother didn't treat her better, Noah still tends to keep her at arms length, because of his scars, thinking that she's only being nice to him out of a sense of obligation for what he's providing for her. Even after she's seen some of his scars, he still tends to hide himself, both physically and emotionally, but considering it's what he's been doing for years, I'm sure that would be a hard habit to break. For her part, Kate can't seem to let go of the notion that Noah only married her out of a sense of responsibility, and that he really wants her baby more than he wants her. However, given that she's worked hard all her life and was basically not being given anything to do to make her feel like she's contributing to the ranch or Noah's life, I suppose I could understand her feeling that way, too. I have to admit as well that the author does a good job of bringing things back around each time one of them veers off into their wrongheaded thinking. I'd no sooner be annoyed by it than something sweet or romantic was happening to help make it all better. But in the end, I decided it was just enough to knock off the half-star. Not to mention, I was a teensy bit disappointed that we, the readers, are the only ones who are privy to Noah's virginal status. I don't think I've read a romance before where that was the case. Hero or heroine, if one of them is a virgin, the other always tends to find out or be let in on it somehow. But otherwise, I thought His Secondhand Wife was a great story for fans of sweeter, gentler romances, and it, along with its predecessor, also earned Cheryl St. John a place on my favorite authors list.
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