The Littlest Wrangler by Belinda Barnes
(Silh. Romance #1350, $3.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-19527-3
***
Kelly Mathews is back to visit James Scott after two years and itís just like she never left. Everything between them clicks just the way it used to. The house is the same, his work is the same, heís the same handsome guy he always was, she still has these unwelcome feelings for him and - oh, well, there is one different thing. She also brought their toddler son to meet his dad for the first time.

James is, to put it mildly, stunned. He couldnít figure out why Kelly left, he had no idea he was a father and he realizes heís always thought she was a good friend and even more to him. So why didnít she tell him the truth? Kelly pretends she has everything under control. She plans to have them stay in town for the summer before she goes to school. James can get to know his son before they leave again. What she doesnít tell him at first is that she doesnít feel well and she only let him know about his son in case something is really wrong with her.

Can this relationship be saved? James is a good guy who takes to fatherhood a lot more readily than either adult expected. Will is a real toddler with poop in his pants, emergency ear infections and a short span of attention and James copes with it all. But Kelly holds back. Sheís lived her life by a lot of rules and James is the one person for whom sheís willing to break those rules. Kelly decides that since she now has little Will to think about, that makes James dangerous to her.

While Kelly is likable, the reader spends a lot of time wondering just what her problem is. Kelly is a good mom but doesnít do so well with adults. Why canít she give in and let James step into his sonís life and hers? Why did she wait so long to tell him about Will? James is a worthwhile human being who more than shows he deserves a chance. What Kelly sees as problems donít seem to be problems to the reader. Kellyís past is revealed by the end of the book, long past time for the reader to gradually feel empathy for Kellyís dilemma. Once the problem is revealed - well, yeah, Kelly has reasons for her hesitation to trust.

The reader can tell from the beginning that this family was meant to be together. How the two adults in The Littlest Wrangler work their way toward what is meant to be, without their own failings blocking the way, is heartwarming. You just wish it didnít take them so long to clue in.

--Irene Williams


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