Meredith Hayes is under the guardianship of her Aunt Noreen and Uncle Everett. Meredith had already been living with her aunt and uncle so she could attend the Palestine Female Institute when both her parents died of fever three years ago. When she comes of age, Meredith will inherit her father's land.
Now at the age of 19, Meredith wants to finish school and teach, not marry Roy Mitchell. But her Uncle Everett is pressuring her to marry Mitchell, an ambitious lumberman. Meredith knows she doesn't love him and she's certain Roy Mitchell feels the same about her, but she's torn between following her heart and doing right by her uncle. That is, until during a lunch with Roy, Meredith overhears him giving orders to burn out Travis Archer from his family land forcing him to sell.
Meredith has been in love with Travis Archer ever since a chance meeting with him at age ten, some twelve years ago. The four Archer boys, Travis, Crockett, Jim and Neill had a reputation for being trigger happy and hostile to all who ventured onto their land. Travis had honored the promise he made to his father not to leave the land for fear of being forced off the homestead. Meredith had gone onto Archer land to retrieve her lunch pail and was injured by one of the Archer coyote traps. Travis had taken good care of her, behaving quite differently from their unfriendly reputation; in fact, he was tender and kind to Meredith, taking her home to her family. Although the injury had healed, Meredith's leg was slightly shorter and her leg was lame. Overhearing Roy Mitchell order his men to set fire to the Archer barn prompts Meredith to risk her life and reputation by riding out to the Archer property to warn them beforehand. Meredith realizes that all Mitchell wants is her land and the timber on it and that he doesn't love her.
When Meredith arrives at the Archer homestead, although she is recognized by Travis, she is given the typical Archer welcome, hostile and cold. But when Mitchell's men strike and Meredith is badly injured, she is forced to stay the night at the Archer homestead. Soon after, Uncle Everett shows up at the Archer homestead, furious at Meredith's ruined reputation and determined to force one of the Archer men to marry Meredith. Travis, who has begun to fall for Meredith, is determined to be the one to marry her. He proposes that they each draw straws and the loser who draws the short straw will be the one who marries Meredith. Travis rigs the draw and wins - Meredith will become his "short straw" bride.
Meredith and Travis are married but Travis decides that he will court his new wife first, rather than claim his marital rights. This creates considerable sexual tension in the novel because Meredith is in love with Travis, and appears to be more ready that he is, to take on her duties as his wife, in every aspect. Meredith struggles to determine whether Travis truly loves her or is just doing his duty, as he carefully treats her with respect and offers her little in the way of physical affection. As they grow in love for one another, more troubles appear, which challenge their relationship. Meredith also attempts to convince her husband to open his family to helping others in Christ-like charity, rather than greeting all who come on Archer land with a locked gate, a closed heart and rifles. Can Meredith truly win the heart of the man she married and make him see that he has much to offer those around him?
Short Straw Bride was a very enjoyable novel. The novel is not well paced, being somewhat slow in the middle as Meredith struggles to cope with Travis' courtship while wanting much more from him. The story then rushes from one exciting event to the next and onto a satisfying, very predictable ending.
Travis and Meredith are the focus of the story, and their relationship is well portrayed, with both characters well developed and in strong contrast to each other. Meredith is impulsive, trusting and devout, while Travis tries to control all aspects of life in order to minimize risk. Less well developed are the secondary characters of the novel, such as Roy Mitchell, Uncle Everett and Cassie, Meredith's attractive cousin. The author doesn't take the opportunity to develop Mitchell's character much, simply giving him a small part that is meant to portray his main flaw: an unbridled love for money.
Witemeyer skillfully portrays different types of love in the relationships in the novel. The Archer family is used to portray agape - the Christian love that we are to have for one another. Agape is sacrificial love, that seeks to do what is best for the other person and this is especially exhibited by both Travis for his younger brothers, whom he has been charged to look after, but also by Meredith when she seeks to help the Archers despite the personal risk. Of course, eros, which is love geared more towards personal satisfaction is developed to a lesser extent between the couples in the novel. Travis and Meredith acknowledge their physical attraction for each other, but pursue developing their sacrificial love for one another first.
Being that this is a Christian romance, Biblical scripture is well integrated into the story, avoiding preachy undertones. The main characters seek to do the will of God and ask him frequently for guidance in all important life decisions.
Overall, Short Straw Bride is a good read that holds one's interest. Witemeyer plans a sequel, Stealing the Preacher, which follows Crockett as he struggles to begin life as a preacher. Expected publication is June, 2013.
Short Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers 2012