Review: The Marriage Season by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

marriage season by linda lael millerFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: contemporary western romance
Series: The Brides of Bliss County #3
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: May 26, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Since Hadleigh, Melody and Bex—the best of best friends—entered into a marriage pact, two of them have found (and married) the men of their hearts. But Bex doesn’t think she’ll be as fortunate as the others. Her own first love died years ago in a faraway war, and Bex has lost hope for a happy marriage of her own. She concentrates on her business, a successful chain of fitness clubs, instead.

Then, when single father Tate Calder comes to Mustang Creek with his two sons in tow, who befriend Bex’s eight-year-old nephew, she and the handsome, aloof newcomer are constantly thrown together. But is the marriage season over? Or can a man with doubts about love be the right husband for a woman who wants it all?

My Review:

marriage pact by linda lael millerThe Marriage Season is a different kind of second-chance romance from the first two wonderful books in this series, The Marriage Pact (reviewed here) and The Marriage Charm (likewise, here).

Hadleigh, Melody and Bex really are BFFs forever. They grew up together, and also continued to grow towards each other as they graduated high school, left Mustang Ridge for college and business opportunities, and all moved back to be with their families. And find their happily ever afters.

The difference is that Hadleigh and Melody found their HEAs with men who they loved earlier in their lives. While the time wasn’t right then, it is now. It just takes each of them some time (and some home truths delivered by their friends) to finally figure things out.

Bex is different. The love of Bex’ young life was Hadleigh’s husband’s brother Will. They were all set to get married after Will returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. He never did, and Bex has never found anyone else to fill his place in her heart.

She’s successful in business, and her life is full and happy, but there’s something missing. Even though she recognizes that her life would have been much different if Will had lived, the fact is that he didn’t. And that Bex hasn’t trusted herself to love again, out of fear that anyone she loves will be taken from her again.

Her younger sister’s disastrous marriage to the wrong man probably hasn’t helped Bex’ trust in the institution, but she loves her nephew Josh to pieces. She just wants better for him than to be a pawn in the midst of his parents acrimonious arguments.

Of course, her friends Hadleigh and Melody are matchmaking for her, just as she helped them when it was their turn. But the friends’ sights are fixed on a newcomer in town. Tate Calder is a single father, his wife dead and his two young sons surprisingly well adjusted.

Tate isn’t looking for love either. Actually, what Tate isn’t looking for is marriage. His was a disaster that was just about to end in divorce when his wife died, leaving him with the two boys and a need to be a much more present father than his own had been, or than he had been while he was running away from the hell of his marriage through overwork.

Tate and Bex collide with a thud when her sister finally runs away from her cheating husband, and leaves little Josh with Bex for the forseeable future. Bex has suddenly, and temporarily, become a single mother, with uncertain custodial privileges and a brother-in-law who will threaten his own son’s welfare to get another chance at his wife taking him back, just so he can cheat on her again.

Bex knows how to run a successful business, but this situation is a little more than she can handle. When Tate steps up to defend her and Josh, they find themselves spending way too much time together to continue ignoring the simmering heat they’ve always had.

Can a woman afraid to love again, and a man afraid to marry again, find a way to make a family together?

christmas in mustang creek by linda lael millerEscape Rating B+: Although there is a Christmas book (Christmas in Mustang Creek) on the way, The Marriage Season is really the end of this series. All of the women’s stories come to lovely HEAs, and we see the happiness of not just Tate and Bex and their children, but the fulfillment of the happy endings for the couples featured in the earlier books in the series.

Which is very important, because as much as The Brides of Bliss County is a series of romances, it is a series that celebrates the importance of women’s friendships. None of these women would be either as happy or as successful without their two BFFs to cheer them on – and occasionally to kick them in the ass when they need it.

While it is not strictly necessary to have read the other two books to enjoy The Marriage Season, it really does help to already be invested in these people and know how they fit into each other’s lives, and into the life of Mustang Creek.

Neither Bex nor Tate are looking for a relationship at the beginning of the book. They both are in places in their lives where there is simply too much on their plates to believe that they have time to put into building a new relationship. They also both have a lot of scars, even though Bex’ are mostly happy ones. She loved Will, and she still misses him, but it’s been ten years and life moves on, even when you don’t want it to.

Tate has uprooted his entire life in order to be a present father and make a good life for his two sons. He’s given up a high-pressure and high-travel job to start a business breeding, selling and renting horses in Wyoming. There’s still plenty of pressure, but Tate is there with his boys every step of the way, and vice versa.

The conflict that brings them together is an integral part of the life of the town. Everyone knows everyone in Mustang Creek, and everyone knows that Bex’ sister Tara should never have married Greg, and that Greg is a lying, cheating, bullying louse. And that Tara is a doormat who has taken him back too often and that their son Josh is suffering for it.

The uncertainty of Bex’ situation when Josh is dumped on her doorstep is confusing, but we feel for both of them. Tara runs away to get her head together, leaving big sister Bex holding the bag and the six-year-old boy. Greg could challenge Bex’ informal custody at any time, and finally does as a threat to get Tara back.

Bex needs help, and at the same time knows she’s going to be heartbroken when one or the other of Josh’s now absent parents demands him back.

At the same time, the way that Bex and Tate reach for each other is now out of desperation on Bex’ part. She appreciates Tate’s help, and his good example of how to raise his kids, but she would manage if he weren’t there. Their discovery that they belong together, and that they are in the middle of a relationship whether it’s a good time for them or not, happens slowly enough that it isn’t forced.

That the kids bond like glue gives the adults the excuse they both needed to explore what was bubbling between them all along. And it works well.

I also think we could have the next generation of stories right there, as those three boys look like they will be every bit as much BFFs in the future as Hadleigh, Melody and Bex were in this generation.

Maybe The Grooms of Bliss County will blossom as a series when they boys have grown up. It would be every bit as awesome as The Brides have been.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

I’m giving away one paperback copy of The Marriage Season to a lucky (U.S.) commenter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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