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Safe With a Stranger
by Linda Conrad
(SRS #1517, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-27587-8
Safe with a Stranger is book one in The Safekeepers trilogy focused on the Ryan Family of Zavala Springs, Texas. The Ryan siblings are heirs apparent to a huge ranch in Texas. Their father inherited the spread upon the death of their mother in a plane crash. She had inherited it from her father Delgado, who had apparently been one of the original Mexican grant holders. The surviving Delgado grandmother and great grandmother are residing in Mexico, one a practicing black witch and the other a practicing white witch.

Josh Ryan has been medically discharged from the Rangers after serving in Afghanistan. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and on his way home to the funeral of his paternal grandfather. While leaving a small town where he had stopped for food, he sees a woman with a child being chased by two thugs. He rescues her and thus meets Clare and infant son Bobby.

Clare had been a reporter when she met, dated and married a Middle Eastern prince. After partying their way through the world, when they finally arrived in his homeland, Clare found all was not as represented. The prince had eight other wives with no sons, and when she gave birth to their son, life really changed as her husband took absolute control of the new prince. Her husband divorced her and was ready to kick her out of the country, keeping Jimmy of course, when she escaped with the baby.

Now she is on the run,and the accosting men were her ex-husband's agents who had followed her to the US. This is a typical flight for life story as the thugs keep popping up and Josh realizes there is no safe haven for Clare except at his home with the protection of his family.  They arrive safely and Clare and Jimmy are swept into the arms of his family.

At the time of their mother's death, Josh's father had sent his children to live with their paternal grandfather and had returned his mother in law to Mexico. These actions plus the circumstances of the plane crash caused the black witch in the family to levy a curse decreeing that his children would have no children. So although Josh is falling in love with Clare, he knows it is hopeless since she wants more children.

The story wanders from the hopelessness of his attraction to the hopelessness of Clare's flight from a man of limitless resources. The strength of this story swings to the romance side as Conrad's fairly well developed characters struggle with their attraction.

The suspense side of the novel truly requires suspension of disbelief in the resolution. A plot to involve the US government in Clare’s protection fails as her former husband is negotiating an oil treaty with the US while he is searching for her. (As if a verbal guarantee would really work) The plans to secure her safety become even less credible as the story progresses.

Conrad is setting the stage for her other two stories and all involved have some form of unusual baggage which permeates all actions. Even if one can disregard Clare's plight and focus solely on the romance the story is still a stretch. This is definitely not one of Conrad's best efforts.

--Thea Davis

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