Big Sky Baby

Cowboy Courage

Hailey's Hero by Judy Duarte
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1659, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24659-5
This is the first of the Bayside Bachelors series, and Hailey's Hero is a great start. It is an engaging tale of love at almost first sight and the struggles to figure out if the feelings are the real thing.

Nick Granger is a San Diego detective who was a bad boy when growing up. He escaped the delinquent route with the help of a detective named Harry Logan. Harry and his wife Kay have three sons of their own, but they took in several young men and helped them find the right path in their life. Nick is one of those boys and would do anything for Harry.

That anything involves heading to Minnesota and finding Harry's illegitimate daughter. She was conceived during a fling when Kay and Harry were estranged. Harry has tried to stay in touch over the years, but she has mainly rejected him. Now he is about to undergo open-heart surgery and he wants to see her. He sends Nick on the mission.

Hailey Conway has made her own way and doesn’t think she needs the father who deserted her and her mother when she was just six. Harry was supposed to come to her birthday party, and he didn't. Her mother, devastated by the loss of his love, never really recovered from her depression. Hailey is a librarian and happily ensconced in her little cottage house in a little town in Minnesota. She has hopes of seducing her neighbor, an accountant who has just been a friend, and convincing him that they could have a life together. After all, comfort is better than nothing.

Nick runs into Hailey when she is being mugged. He captures the thief, returns her property and is amazed at her prettiness and her shyness. She sends him on his way, only to find him on her doorstep a few hours later. Thinking he is after something more from the mugging, she invites him in. He ends up staying for dinner and gets snowed in. (Okay, this is a little far fetched, but it is Minnesota in the winter). They end up unable to fight their attraction and they make love, completely forgetting the condoms Hailey had purchased to use with her boyfriend. The next morning, Nick tells Hailey his real reason for coming by and she declines his invitation to see Harry.

Predictably, Hailey gets pregnant and then decides she really should see Harry so she doesn't carry the guilt around if he dies. And this gives her a great chance to see Nick again. This is a little on the outlandish side, but if you can get past it, the romance soars. Nick and Hailey heat up the pages and not just with lust. They are dynamic together, enjoying many of the same things, opening up to each other and generally having fun. The complication and worry over whether Harry's wife will accept Hailey and her reunion with Harry take a backseat to the romance.

Nick is a good hero – strong, silent, sure of himself (except around Hailey), amazed that he enjoys her, yet willing to acknowledge there is something there. He is gentle, caring and determined to stay a bachelor because of his upbringing. Hailey has been hurt, but she is willing to take a look at things from Harry's viewpoint and her gentle nature allows her to open herself up for his love. She is a little bit stubborn and naïve when she refuses to tell Nick about the baby for a long time, but once she determines her course of action, her character shines through.

I enjoyed reading this story despite some of the less-than-believable plot points. Duarte has a way of writing this that overcomes the skepticism generated by these types of events. It is her skill that keeps the reader engaged. Hailey's Hero promises the stories of the other bachelors that Harry has helped. I look forward to seeing if the tales are as good.

--Shirley Lyons

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