The Bride Bargain
In 1855 in Nebraska Territory (modern Wyoming), Clara Field and her Aunt Doreen are abandoned by the leader of their wagon train when one of their oxen runs off. Once they finally reach the small town of Buttonwood, local merchant Josiah Reed convinces them to keep house for him for the season rather than venturing on to Oregon alone. The arrangement proves mutually beneficial, so much so that Josiah strikes a bargain with Clara. His doctor son, Saul, will be paying a visit soon; if Clara finds him a local bride, Josiah will deed his two-story house over to her. Matchmaking shenanigans ensue.
The author, the daughter of novelist Cathy Marie Hake, writes in a similarly flowing style, with obvious respect for the women who braved the 19th-century Western frontier. Unfortunately, the characterization is weak or inconsistent, the protagonists have little chemistry, and some plot elements are completely nonsensical. Among many examples, Saul subjects his new ward, a poor inner-city girl, to the rigors of the Oregon Trail for a quasi-vacation in idyllic Buttonwood before proposing to enroll her in an elite boarding school back East. In another scene, Josiah sets off to visit his daughter in Baltimore with only his horse and a couple of saddlebags. One can suspend disbelief only so far.