Family Man by Carol Carson
(Leisure, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4625-3
Jane Warner moved to Drover, Kansas in 1888 to take care of her older brotherís farm and two young sons. David Warner, grieving for his dead wife, neglected his farm and sons and eventually took off, leaving Jane in charge. Janeís existence on the farm has been less than idyllic, and now sheís taken sick. The town doctor is a quack and claims that sheís dying and her illness, which he canít even diagnose, is most likely the result of a curse.

Jane doesnít believe in curses, but since the doctor canít seem to help her, she begins to question her mortality. What would happen to the farm? Her two young nephews? She certainly canít rely on David to reappear since she has no idea where he even is. So, she takes out an ad for a man. The boys need a father, and to be cared for if she should actually die.

Rider Magrane returns to Drover after a five year stint in prison. His crime involved David Warner, so Rider decides to repay his debt to the man personally. Imagine his surprise to find Jane, and not David in residence. Jane doesnít seem to know Rider or his connection to her brother, so of course he doesnít tell her the truth. Rider decides the best way to repay his debt to David is to answer Janeís ad and take care of her, the boys and the farm.

Family Man had some clever moments, but there were instances where I found the main characters actions unbelievable. Jane immediately accepts this stranger, who she knows nothing about, into her home with an 18-month-old and 6-year-old in residence. This isnít believable in 2000, let alone 1888. Also, she doesnít seem to think her ad through very well. Rider is the one who brings up marriage, since it isnít proper by 1888 standards for a woman and man to live under the same roof with no chaperone and unmarried. This thought never even crossed Janeís mind.

Rider is generally a likeable romance hero, but his motives concerning Jane are less than stellar in the beginning. His feelings for her are all over the map: heís attracted to her, even likes her, but doesnít love her. Then he figures marrying Jane and taking care of the farm is a good way to repay David. Gee, donít do the girl any favors.

But Iím a sucker for a western romance and Family Man endeared itself to me in several ways. First, Jane and Rider are pretty much equals when it comes to experience with the opposite sex. For those of you who are tired of worldly men ďeducatingĒ virginal women, this aspect of the story should appeal. Also, Carson writes some amusing secondary characters including a sister straight from The Taming of the Shrew and Evie Smith, a cantankerous old woman who pulls freight for a living.

Even though I was scratching my head in the beginning, by the end Jane and Rider really do come out as a likeable romance couple. They never lit a fire in me, but I wasnít cheering on the bad guys either and even anticipated the consummation of their relationship.

Family Man is the sequel to the authorís first Leisure publication Bad Company. She does a nice job filling in details, while leaving enough mystery for those who want to seek out the earlier title. Family Man offers readers lighthearted moments and amusing characters. A book and an author worth a look for western romance fans.

--Wendy Crutcher

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