Tablet Life & Arts

Jodi Thomas returns to ‘Whispering Mountain’ with ‘Promise Me Texas’

Jodi Thomas’ latest offering in her “Whispering Mountain” series, Promise Me Texas, set in 1879, is best described as a romantic comedy.

Beth McMurray is the youngest daughter of Jessie and Teagan, the eldest brother in the McMurray clan. Beth, or Bethie, is a headstrong woman who’s described as “spoiled” and “temperamental.” But mostly she’s a lot of fun.

In building Beth’s character, and Andrew McLaughlin’s, Thomas stepped away from the dominant molds of romantic characters. Yes, Beth is willful and spoiled, but she’s also intelligent, funny and loyal. She’s definitely not a helpless woman who’s TSTL — too stupid to live. A wandering writer, Andrew is anything but your typical alpha male — he doesn’t even carry a gun.

Beth is engaged to marry a former U.S. senator who’s 15 years her senior. She first met him as a teenager. Now 24, Beth agrees to travel to Dallas to meet and secretly marry — she’s also impulsive — her fiance.

Disguised as a man so she can travel easily, Beth leaves early and winds up in the same train car as her intended. She is stunned to hear him talk about their marriage; he’ll be in charge and beat her as needed.

Beth is trying to get off the train when it crashes as robbers are boarding.

Would-be robber Andrew saves her life. The romance begins when Beth declares that she and Andrew are married in an effort to ward off the now-unwanted fiance.

The McMurray men, and those who married Beth’s sisters in earlier novels, are dominant males. Andrew is a beta with a backbone. Sure, he lets Beth rope him into their marriage, but it’s only because he’s so taken with her. She touches something in his scarred heart. He goes along with her wacky plans, but he calls her on them and he stands up to her family. When Beth’s uncles, former Texas Ranger Travis and horse breeder Tobin, ask about their courtship and marriage, Andrew unflinchingly and truthfully answers, “I was unconscious.”

Andrew’s character challenges the norm that strong Western males need to be armed and crack shots. He’s neither. Andrew doesn’t hesitate to stand up for a young woman’s honor and he doesn’t flinch when Beth is in danger. He’s a refreshing change of pace.

There’s a little intrigue and mystery in the plot, but for the most part Promise Me Texas is a comedy built around Beth and Andrew’s unconventional relationship. Andrew doesn’t think acting as an “almost-husband” is long-term commitment, but the lie keeps growing, and by the time her father shows up, there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice but to keep up the pretense.

Their relationship is bolstered and encouraged by a cast of secondary characters that includes two stray children, a pregnant 15-year-old and a young, snakebit rancher. Much of the action takes place in Fort Worth — Andrew even makes a trip to Hell’s Half Acre — before moving to the mountain.

Promise Me Texas is the seventh in the “Whispering Mountain” series. It’s easy for serials to become bogged down with backstories, but Thomas handles the past masterfully. Andrew is a writer who builds his stories around the people he meets and his experiences. He’s come to Texas to try and understand its attraction.

Beth regales him with stories of her family — all the way back to Texas Rain, the first in the series.

The writing and storytelling are first-rate, and I lost count of the times I laughed aloud. This is a wonderful addition to the series.