Lady with a Past
by Ryanne Corey
(Silh. Desire #1319, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-76319-0
*****
Tonya Wood a.k.a. Courtney Ryan and Ryanne Corey, has been writing category romances since 1985, when she published her first book, For the Love of Mike, a Second Chance at Love imprint. Sixteen books followed, yet not many people know her work, which could be because she hasn't published anything since 1995. With books as captivating as Lady with a Past, I'd say that’s about to change.

Conor Garrett is a cocky ex-football player. Life has always been easy for Conor, so much so that he’s becoming bored with its lack of challenges. He rationalizes that all men who aren't playing football for a living are probably bored. Even his job as a successful television journalist isn't fun anymore, but his life is about to change.

Conor is on a quest to find the elusive, internationally famous model, Glitter Baby, who dominated the world of high fashion for eight years, then dropped out of sight two years ago at the height of her popularity. He’s followed countless dead-end leads and now finds himself in a Wyoming feed store with photos of Glitter Baby, asking people in the store if they recognize her. Showing the photo to a young woman who’s interested in buying fertilizer, Conor notes her hasty exit and then sees her speed off in a cloud of dust . . . without her fertilizer. Now things begin to look anything but boring to Conor.

Maxie Calhoon isn't exactly hiding, but nobody who sees her now would think that she was ever Glitter Baby. In the two years since she’s escaped from modeling, she’s overcome her anorexia, insomnia and has begun to enjoy life, particularly sunsets. She owns a small farm straight off the pages of Little House on the Prairie, milks her cows, grows vegetables while coexisting with a friendly rabbit and is really content for the first time in years. Now her favorite thing to eat is SpaghettiOs, a food that’s not a model’s best friend. The last thing she wants is publicity, which is why she considers Conor Garrett to be a pain in the behind.

To say that she’s enthusiastic over Conor’s desire to interview her for his television show is like saying that politicians enjoy losing elections. She’s seen his type before, this gorgeous man who has all of his clothes sent out to be cleaned, for cripe’s sake. She knows that she’s nothing to him but a pretty exterior and a good story. It’s as though his manly ego is whetted by her reluctance, especially when she asks him to leave. “I'm going to walk you to your car and wave enthusiastically while you drive away.” What she doesn't know is that Conor senses immediately that this woman doesn't need his admiration, attention or approval. She’s comfortable, finally, with who and what she is.

So Conor decides to hang around, interested in both the interview and the enticing, enigmatic woman.

Ryanne Corey has given us two strong, intensely likable characters whose traces of vulnerability make them step off the pages. In a charming scene, Conor buys some Western duds. Maxie has teased him about sending all of his clothes to be cleaned, which he does. The creases in his starched jeans give him away. When he buys new clothes more suited to Wyoming, Conor gloats that he’s practically “wrinkled.” Look, Ma, no creases! In fact, he drawls, “I feel like getting on a horse and herding something.”

Conor realizes that too many people have judged Maxie on her looks alone, which makes him determined to let her know that it’s she and not Glitter Baby that he admires. How can we resist a man who takes his ladylove on a chocolate picnic? I, along with Maxie, was delighted and awed with this sincere charmer. What cinches it for me is when Conor muses that, yes, he'd been looking for Glitter Baby, but had found a treasure in Maxie.... “flaws, fertilizer and all”.

The conflict comes in the form of Conor’s gung-ho assistant. Think of Jason Alexander’s character in Pretty Woman, and you'll have a good feel for Morris, who’s willing to go just a bit too far to get the interview.

What sets this book apart is hard to put into words. There’s a joy, a love of life, a freshness that comes though in Ryanne Corey’s writing. Humor is a commodity that I can't resist. Here it shines through in the dialog, which is top-notch, droll and infused with a gentle wit. Both characters are intelligent, vulnerable and innately good. Simply put, Lady with a Past is that proverbial breath of fresh air.

While I've read lots of books I can recommend, it’s a rare book that I rave about and convey ‘keeper’ status. Lady with a Past is indeed a keeper, in the finest sense of the word, a delight to savor and reread . . . over and over and over.

--Linda Mowery


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