The first in her new Brides of Bliss County series, Linda Lael Miller's The Marriage Pact introduces readers to Hadleigh Stevens, Melody Nolan, and Bex Stuart. The trio of lifelong friends has decided that they won’t simply sit around and wait for Cupid to work his magic: they want to find some nice cowboys and set down roots, and together they vow to do just that by making a pact – a marriage pact. Quilt shop owner Hadleigh has suffered a lot of loss in her life: her parents in a car accident, her brother in the service, and her grandmother to the sad passage of time. And then there was her chance at marriage when she was eighteen years old, when she stood at the alter with a man she barely knew and found herself being embarrassingly hauled away like a child by her late brother’s best friend, cowboy-turned-pilot Tripp Galloway. Hadleigh may have harbored a childhood crush on Tripp once upon a time, but she hasn't quite forgiven him for the grand humiliation he caused her – and she’s not ready to admit that she’s glad for what he did. Nor is she ready to admit, when Tripp suddenly moves back from the big city for the long haul, that her feelings for him have never really left her.
Linda Lael Miller has over one hundred books to her name, and yet her latest novel has a way of making the western romance genre feel brand new. An intriguing aspect of The Marriage Pact is that the plot doesn't rely on creating and fostering conflict. While Hadleigh and Tripp are apt to butt heads plenty of times (with wonderfully entertaining results), neither of them deny their chemistry with too much obstinacy; in this way Miller proves that a sweet, romantic story can be just as entertaining without a lot of dramatic entanglements. The story of Hadleigh and Tripp is charming in its simplicity, but where Miller really brings the story to its most touching heights is in the nuances of the main characters’ relationships with family and friends. Hadleigh's camaraderie (and even her disagreements) with her two best friends feels like a true-to-life sisterhood while Tripp's close relationship with the stepfather who raised him will easily capture the reader's heart. Miller devotes much of the book to scenes of recollections and emotional discoveries, allowing us to witness the main characters being introspective. Her attention to detail makes her already likeable characters even more delightful.
Also playing a big role in The Marriage Pact is the little town of Mustang Creek – nestled in Wyoming's Bliss County – and its inquisitive inhabitants. Miller writes her western setting with lovely imagery, capturing the little pleasures of life in a small town and bringing to life the feeling, the pace, and of course the charm of life on a ranch. With a heartwarming beginning to the new series, full of enjoyable characters, a cozy atmosphere, and smile-inducing romance, The Marriage Pact will certainly leave readers excited to discover who the next bride of Bliss County will be.