Thoughts After Reading:
My overriding thought while reading Jodi Thomas's The Texan's Wager was, "Damn, this woman knows how to write a western!" It's a novel that has it all: a crazed outlaw gunning to kill the heroine, a child in need of protection (who also has outlaws after her), sheriffs of questionable sanity, intelligent comedy, unique and well rounded main characters, an unabashedly ridiculous premise that starts it all... and, of course, a wonderfully meaningful romance. The book contains a great deal of action and more than a little sillyness, but it also packs in more than enough romantic development to make the reader feel this marriage-of-convenience has turned into a passionate love.
I didn't find the actions leading up to the premise of the series to be plausible at all. But - a few chapters in - I didn't really care either. It's that good of a book. The novel opens with the heroine and her two friends trying to make it to Texas. They were abandoned by their wagon train, and are running out of resources. They come across an outlaw, who plans to kidnap and rape one of the women. The heroine - always ready to do what needs to be done - bashes the man in the head, and believes she has killed him. As a show of support, the other two women also take swings at the man. Feeling guilty (I suppose), they decide to turn themselves in for killing a man in self-defense. The sheriff knows the women will be exonerated, but feels some sort of penalty should be required - so he sets up a wife lottery so that the new grooms can pay the ladies' fines. That's the premise, but then the book gets good. The hero is a rugged man and an extreme loner. He rarely ever talks, not because he can't - but because he doesn't wish to. His parents were murdered in their own farm when he was only a boy and his foster parents were not very kind, so he's use to taking care and trusting only himself. In what he can only describe to himself as a fit of madness, he enters the wife lottery. Even he's not entire sure why he does it, but it seems he jumps at the idea of eventually having children and some semblance of a family. Despite his stoic presence, the hero's sweet nature quickly becomes obvious - he doesn't know what he's looking for in a wife, so all he writes on the letter is: "Be my wife, all my life." The hero and heroine dance around each other as they begin their marriage, with both parties making an effort to please the other. The heroine presence disrupts the hero's life, but for the better - she helps bring him out of his shell, becoming a little more comfortable with people but most especially with his wife. There are several endearing moments as the couple gradually discover passion together, even though the heroine worries at times about propriety. She finds peace in running the household, but what she really needs is a man who cherishes her for once in her life - her fiance abandoned her, and her unloving father sent her away to protect his job. She finds that kind of man in the hero. There's a great deal more that goes on in the story, of course - first with the main characters getting to know each other and then with the action sequences, as they fight to see another sunrise when it turns out the outlaw wasn't dead after all. Let it suffice to say it's all very fun, and all very engaging.
I found Jodi Thomas's The Texan's Wager to be an amazingly good western romance. I loved it all - the characters, the action, the genuine relationship, the comic relief. Thomas writes a very meaningful marriage-of-convenience storyline, where two strangers come to mean the world to each other in just a few weeks. I cannot wait to try the other books in the series.