Review: The Marriage Pact by Linda Lael Miller

marriage pact by linda lael millerFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, large print, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Western romance
Series: The Brides of Bliss County, #1
Length: 377 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: June 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Ten years ago, Hadleigh Stevens was eighteen and this close to saying “I do,” when Tripp Galloway interrupted her walk down the aisle. Now that she’s recovered from her youthful mistake and Tripp’s interference, Hadleigh and her single friends form a marriage pact. She doesn’t expect Tripp to meddle with her new plan to find Mr. Right—or to discover that she’s more attracted to him than ever!

Divorced and eager to reconnect with his cowboy roots, Tripp returns to Bliss County to save his ailing father’s ranch. He’s not looking for another wife—certainly not his best friend’s little sister. But he’s never been able to forget Hadleigh. And this time, if she ends up in his arms, he won’t be walking away!

My Review:

I’ve enjoyed every single one of Linda Lael Miller’s Parable Montana series, and her new Brides of Bliss County feels like they are right next door. Her descriptions of small town life in the contemporary West make me want to go for a visit, and maybe even to stay.

The Marriage Pact is a best friends story, a second-chance-at-love story, a small town romance and the introduction to the series. That’s a lot of heavy lifting, all packed into a light and lovely book with a sweet and tender romance.

Tripp Galloway was Hadleigh Stevens’ girlhood crush. He was her older brother’s best friend, and Tripp inherited the task of looking after her when her brother Will died in Afghanistan. Hadleigh and Tripp shared their grief, but Hadleigh was still a girl, and Tripp was seven years older, a gap that felt like an eon after his military service.

Still, when Hadleigh was about to marry the worst possible candidate, Tripp rushed back home to carry her out of her wedding just before the ceremony was over. She was secretly hoping that he’d come to carry her off for real. 18-year-olds still have those dreams. But it was both too early and too late. Hadleigh still hadn’t completely grown up, and Tripp was already married.

It took him ten years to come back, and she still hasn’t completely forgiven him for the most embarrassing moment of her life. She still hasn’t forgotten him, either. But Hadleigh is 28 now, definitely all grown up. And Tripp’s first marriage is eight years over and done. The timing is just right.

In the intervening ten years, Hadleigh and her two best friends, Melody and Bex, have all created successful businesses and fantastic careers. But none of them have managed to find the right man to be the mate and partner who fulfills the other part of their lives. They love their success, but they all want more.

And in a small town like Mustang Ridge, they’ve been through the entire dating pool and back again. Hadleigh hasn’t found anyone who matches her memories of Tripp. But Melody seems to be stuck on Police Chief Spence Hogan, and Bex has been too busy creating her exercise franchise to even look.

They’ve been bridesmaids dozens of times, but never the bride. So they make a pact, that they will help each other find Mr. Right, and celebrate together when they each do. One for all, and all for one.

With Tripp finally back for good, Hadleigh has a chance to either get him, or get over him, once and for all. With the grown up Hadleigh, Tripp finally figures out that he wants a whole lot more than to just be friends. This time, he’s in it for keeps.

If Hadleigh can get past her long worn resentment, and her fears that everyone she loves, dies.

Escape Rating B+: The building of the relationship between Tripp and Hadleigh is what carries this story, and it’s fun to watch them squabble at cross-purposes, while Hadleigh thinks through what she really wants. Tripp already knows, but getting himself back into Hadleigh’s good graces takes a lot of doing, along with some help from their dogs!

The scene where Tripp hauls Hadleigh out of her long ago wedding opens the book, and it’s priceless both for it’s humor and its melancholy. He’s right, but everything is so over-the-top, and neither of them is remotely ready to admit why it has to happen.

Hadleigh lives more than a bit in her head. She has revelation after revelation about who she wants to be and where she’s been, and occasionally seems totally out of it to whoever is around her. Her internal life is funny, and she’s sometimes still trying to talk herself into or out of things that are manifestly too late. Like loving Tripp.

Tripp is also working out his relationship with his dad, and the reason he’s come home. He doesn’t start out intending to chase Hadleigh. He just comes to realize that resolving things with Hadleigh is all part of coming home, and making the family ranch house back into a home..

marriage charm by linda lael millerThe depth of Hadleigh’s friendship with Melody and Bex is well-done (also enviable). I’m glad that the next book (The Marriage Charm) will let readers find out what is going on (or not going on) between Melody and the police chief.

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