Her Wyoming Man by Cheryl St.John
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Her Wyoming Man is a book about second chances. Ella has a second chance to have a life of her own, a life of freedom where she doesn't have to live in a gilded cage, at the whim of another person. People might think being a wife doesn't provide safety and freedom. But to prostitutes and courtesans who are one step away from being slaves, it's a way out of a desperate, hopeless life. So Ella, and some of the girls from a house of pleasure in Dodge City, Kansas sneak out and answer an ad in Wyoming for maidens suitable for marriage. They have to lie about their origins, saying they came from a finishing school, but that's a chance they are willing to take.
Ella ends up marrying Nathan, a handsome, kind, widowed father who has aspirations for the governorship of Wyoming. He's the way for her to have a safe life, and she's taking it. Ella has bottled up her emotions and what she wanted out of life for so long, she doesn't expect for her husband to love her. She just doesn't want to be seen as only a beautiful object, so she works hard to prove her worthiness to her husband. Much to her surprise, he shows her a consideration and care for her needs that she's never felt. And then he tells her he loves her, not even expecting for her to feel the same for him. She falls for him and his three young children, and living a lie doesn't feel so good, especially when her friend Celeste comes clean to her husband, and she sees how much Celeste's husband adores her, even knowing about her unsavory past. Can Nathan love Ella, even if she isn't the sheltered virgin he thought he was marrying?
Nathan is also getting a second chance. His first marriage wasn't happy. His wife didn't like living out West, and she tolerated, rather than enjoyed their time in the marriage bed, eschewing any intimacy on a personal and emotional level with Nathan. Nathan internalized this, thinking he was a bad husband, and fears he will do the same to Ella. But Ella is warm and eager for his attentions. How can he be getting his wish come true after things going so wrong the first time? Can he accept that she was once a courtesan, finding the courage to ignore what others might think and fight for their love?
This was a quick but rewarding read. I liked that the issues and the unsavory aspects of life as a prostitute weren't overlooked, but neither were they handled in a graphic manner. Instead, Ms. St. John tackles the emotional costs that a woman who has been forced into this life faces. She presents different women who were ladies of pleasure, and shows how they aren't all necessarily the same. Ella had it much easier than many of her fellow ladies, but she was still a prisoner, treated as merely a beautiful face,a pleasing/trained companion, a warm body, and valued only for what she could provide, her own emotional needs ignored. Her friend Celeste was sold into prostitution as a young girl, in very unpleasant circumstances, and physically abused. I was happy to see that she found a good man in her husband Paul. A man who loved her enough to realize that everyone deserves a second chance, and that she didn't really have a choice in that life, so who was he to hold that against her when she had a heart full of love to give. Nathan had a harder time accepting it, but I loved that he searched his heart and realized that Ella was the woman he loved, and that whatever happened in the past needed to stay there; that he didn't have the right to hold that against her. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at the town's resolution of the issue, but not enough that it affected my enjoyment of this story. There was too much to like about it, with characters that I liked as people and wanted to see get a happy ending.
The subject matter of prostitution is not a favorite of mine, but deep down I love the idea of people getting a blank slate, a chance for their happy ending, even if they didn't have such a good start in life. In fact, these stories make me root for the HEA even more. I like to see love conquer all and the good guy win; people overcome really horrible obstacles and come out the victor. And this book delivers that. I'd recommend this book to fans of shorter historical romances. It has a lot of heart and soul.
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