1891 . . . Jolene Crawford Crenshaw, heiress and Boston socialite, went from her family home directly to Landonmore upon her marriage, the mansion she shared with her handsome and charismatic husband. She’d never in her life worried in the slightest over anything as crass as the dollars required to maintain that home or the lifestyle she’d been born to. Her extensive yearly wardrobe, the stables and the prime horseflesh within it, even the solid silver forks and knifes that graced her table, were expected and required to maintain the social standing that she’d cultivated over the years. But suddenly she was a widow with little money and just her pride and her secrets to keep her upright.
Max Shelby made his fortune in oil wells and cattle, but lost the love of his life the day his wife died. Now, his happy, carefree daughter needs instruction and guidance as she grows into a young lady and his dream of becoming a Senator from his adopted state of Texas seems out of reach with few political or social connections. The right wife would solve both problems. As it happens, his sister knows of a woman, a recent widow, charming, beautiful and socially astute, but in reduced circumstances, who may want to begin again. Max signed the wedding contract sight unseen.
Will Jolene be able to shed her sorrows, anger and fears to begin anew away from the censure and hidden tragedy that marred her life? Is her new husband, confident, strong and capable Max Shelby, the man, the only man, to see past her masks to find the woman beneath?
Max walked slowly to where a woman, dressed in black, was directing several porters stacking multiple trunks and luggage. It was a detail he’d not thought of. He turned to the depot manager who was watching the porters himself.
“Can you get word to the Shaw Brothers to get over here with one of their wagons?”
The manager nodded and hurried to his depot, and Max turned back. Apparently finished, four porters stood behind rows and stacks of luggage and trunks, staring up at the train. The woman dressed in black was waiting, and the conductor stood to the side of the metal steps between the cars and lifted his hand up. At the top of those three steps appeared a tall, slender woman. She was dressed from head to toe in the palest blue, starting with the tilted, wide-brimmed hat, to her jacket trimmed in black roping to her bustled skirts. She extended a foot shod in a pale blue satin slipper and accepted the conductor’s outstretched hand.
At first glance, she was stunning and sophisticated and sure of herself. And he was certain she was his wife. He walked to her and held out his hand.
“Mrs. Jolene Shelby?”
She turned her head slowly. “Mr. Maximillian Shelby?”
He bowed his head and touched his hat. “At your service, ma’am.”
She put a gloved hand in his, and he was immediately aware of her. He could smell a musky rose scent and felt the pressure of her hand in his as she came down the last two steps.
Publisher & Release Date: Holly Bush Books, February 2015
Time and setting: 1891, Texas
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Vikki
I first discovered Holly Bush when I read Train Station Bride, and I have been a fan ever since. Contract to Wed is a fantastic addition to the series.
At the reading of her late husband’s will, Jolene Crawford Crenshaw finds out the man has left most of the fortune she brought to the marriage to a child named Jillian. While she will have an adequate annual income, it will not keep her in Jolene in the style to which she is accustomed as a pampered Bostonian socialite. When an offer to wed a Texas rancher is presented to her, Jolene accepts and makes the trip to Texas.
When Maximillian Shelby meets the woman he married by proxy for the first time, he is immediately drawn to her cool beauty. When it quickly becomes apparent that she does not want an affectionate union, he is just as determined to have one, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of his twelve-year-old daughter, Melinda.
Will Max break through the insurmountable walls surrounding Jolene’s heart, teaching her that love is worth the risk, or will she remain a stiff, emotionless woman chained to her past?
Contract to Wed is a well-written and emotionally-charged read from the first page to the last. The characters are engaging and the storyline is easy to follow. It is a fast-paced read with just the right amount of dialogue to balance the narrative.
Even though Jolene’s character is not easy to love because of her cold, withdrawn demeanor, she did gain my empathy from the first page; and by the end of the story, I very much wanted her to have her happy ending. She is a very complex character with a lot of depth, and it takes a skilled writer to get the reader enmeshed with a character that is hard to like.
Max on the other hand, stole my heart, and so did his daughter, Melinda. She is a pure delight, fun-loving and free spirited. Max is honorable, loyal and dependable, but not in a dull way at all. It’s refreshing to find a hero who is not a womanizer while still being an alpha male. His love and care of his daughter says a great deal about his character.
What I loved most about the story is the Jolene’s journey; going from an unlikeable character to one I respected and admired. When Max breaks through her tough shell, you find a woman trying to deal with the bad hand life dealt her, from her detestable mother, to her weak late husband, to the loss of her dear little William. She has quite a few reasons to be so determined to never love again.
I thoroughly enjoyed Contract to Wed and recommend it highly. The book will appeal to anyone who likes a character who grows a great deal, and the romance is also deep and passionate as well. I can’t wait for the next book in this great series.
Holly will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holly Bush writes historical romance set on the American Prairie, in Victorian England, and recently released her first Women’s Fiction title. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Connect with Holly at * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Amazon