A penniless duke, an American heiress, a case of mistaken identity, and a marriage of convenience—does it add up to love?
Johnston's Mail Order Brides series, which started with Texas Bride (2012), comes to a close with this fourth volume. Marcus Wharton, the Duke of Blackthorne, buys Josie Wentworth from the Sioux Indians for a gold watch after seeing her brutally beaten. He brings her back to England to recover and then asks a friend to have her returned to her family in America. Instead, his new wife, recognizing that she's dying from consumption and that Marcus is fascinated with the fighting spirit of the girl he rescued, has Josie sent to work as a maid at Tearlach Castle on the Scottish border, where Marcus' orphaned nephews live. After a Pinkerton detective locates Josie and informs her that her family survived the Sioux attack that left her scarred and imprisoned and that she is, in fact, quite wealthy, her plan is to use her fortune to rescue the Duke's nephews, to whom she has become attached, from their life as victims of their feuding governess and housekeeper and abscond with them back to America. Does this already sound plot-heavy and a little confusing? Correct! And that's ignoring the new romance and possible scandal between Marcus' best friend and his little sister or the events in America with Josie's sisters. This isn't a terrible book—the writing is fine and the characters are interesting—but most of the drama and conflict are due to miscommunication. Some of that is understandable, since overseas communication was time-consuming and messages cross in the mail, but Johnston leans on it too heavily. The last quarter of the book feels rushed because of the dozen or so storylines the author tries to fit in. Beyond those fairly superficial complaints, the savage Sioux attack on Josie, which opens the book and lacks any kind of context, feels racist and unnecessary.
At best, overly complicated. At worst, problematic.