Heart of the West
A Cowboy at Heart

Cowboy Santa

Marry Me, Kate

My Daddy the Duke

by Judy Christenberry
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-82595-1
The latest entry in the “Heart of the West” bachelor auction series offers a familiar plot: the commitment resistant man who believes he doesn’t want a family until he makes the acquaintance of a simply irresistible baby and her mother. If you are not completely tired of this storyline, you might well enjoy Rent-A-Dad.

Russ Hall is an architect from Chicago, but when the Lost Springs Ranch asks its alumni to come back to Wyoming and participate in a bachelor auction to raise much needed funds, he agrees. The ranch was the only home he knew after his mother left him there when he was four years old. Russ is somewhat surprised to be “purchased” by a noticeably pregnant woman. What does she want with a bachelor?

What Melissa Bright wants is Russ’s handsome face and form; she thinks that he will be the perfect model for a line of “cowboy” greeting cards that she is developing. But when she finally gets around to calling in her chips almost a year after the auction, she thinks she might enjoy an additional boon. Maybe, just maybe, with Russ in the house for the weekend, she might get to sleep in one morning. She adores her seven month old daughter, Mandy, but she’s not a morning person and Mandy is.

Melissa is a single mom because her fiancé was killed a week before their wedding. Greg had supported her greeting card effort and had actually suggested the “purchase” of a bachelor to be a model. Melissa misses him very much. Between her baby and her business, she has had had no time for herself.

Russ is an unlikely “rent-a-dad.” He has no experience with babies and sitting next to a screaming infant on the plane from Chicago to Casper doesn’t lead him to look favorably on the idea of taking care of Mandy. But he’s a game one, and finds surprising pleasure in relating to a cute baby. He also finds spending time with Melissa most enjoyable.

Like all the heroes in the “Heart of the West” series, Russ has issues about his own childhood experiences and the sense of abandonment he still feels. Melissa has her own issues as well: her loyalty to the man she loved; her desire to be the perfect parent; her over dedication to her baby at the expense of her own needs.

I have said it before and I will undoubtedly say it again. The popularity of “baby romances” like Rent-A-Dad says something profound about the hopes and fears of American women today. Clearly, many women find the idea that a handsome man will fall in love, not only with the heroine but also with her baby, very reassuring. Perhaps this scenario reflects the unspoken fears of many women that they will be left alone to raise their children. Perhaps it reflects their hopes that motherhood will not mean the end of any hope of romance. Whatever the motives that lead to the sale of millions of these books every year, the fact remains that the publishers have tapped into something in the female psyche.

Rent-A-Dad is a well written romance which takes this omnipresent plot, adds well drawn characters, and provides a leaven of humor. It is a good example of a “baby romance” and, as such, I recommend it.

--Jean Mason

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