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Be Mine by Geri Guillaume
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-013-1
Tucker Conklin grew up in an orphanage. He never had anyone or anything to call his own. As an orderly in a Jackson, Mississippi hospital, he befriended a patient named Judah McVie. Tucker and Judah settled into an easy relationship. The older man would show him pictures of his extended family and tell him stories about each one of them.

Shortly before his death from emphysema, Judah revised his will. He left Tucker the Bar M ranch, 2,000 acres of land in a small Mississippi town about two hours away from Natchez. Judah also made Tucker promise to take care of his favorite niece and namesake, Jude McVie.

Tucker has plans to convert the five-level, ten bedroom, "antebellum, former home of slave owners" into a bed and breakfast. When he comes to claim his inheritance, he discovers a slight wrinkle in his plan.

You see, the McVie family doesn't just inhabit the old photographs. Judah's younger brother, Big Earl, his wife Reva, and all nine of their children are living on the Bar M. They have a will that gives them the ranch. The McVie's are not pleased at the prospect of being disinherited and evicted by a total stranger.

Then there's Jude McVie. "...Jude McVie wasn't a cute kid. She wasn't cute; and she wasn't a kid. Again, Tucker found himself cursing Judah McVie under his breath. The description her uncle had given him, and the faded photograph he'd passed along, didn't do her justice. The picture he had of her was several years old. While Judah had spoken of her, he'd spoken of her with the eyes and the heart of an adoring uncle."

Over the objections of his family, Big Earl invites Tucker to stay until the dispute over the will can be resolved. "Whatever he is, whoever he is, he was a friend of Judah's. That's enough for me." Big Earl is a fair man, a simple man, a man who believes in family, an honest day's work and "touch my daughter...I'll have to try to kill you." That said, Tucker is shown to a guest room where he spends his free time fighting his growing attraction to Jude McVie. His stay and his agony are prolonged when a major storm hits the area.

Be Mine is one of those stories that sneak up on you. Readers are cautioned to leave their big-city cynicism at the door or they'll miss something very important. In Geri Guillaume's carefully crafted story, you don't know what you think you do! I admire the author for not taking the easy plot route. Her characters have too much strength and self-esteem to be trapped in a marriage-of-convenience story. They work hard for their living and their loving.

The intense sexual tension between the main characters permeates the pages. It even overwhelms the secondary characters. One likens it to watching lightning strike. It is so strong that Jude and Tucker can be alone in a room with ten other people or in a crowded bar. After a while the reader and Tucker tend to forget he has inherited the ranch and not Jude! She has become his mission and he patiently waits for her.

While Jude cannot deny the attraction, she is caught up in the conflict between loyalty to her family and her feelings for Tucker.

The characters in Be Mine are a throw back to a simpler time. Only the vehicles and the vernacular serve to remind readers that this is a contemporary romance. (I must admit being leery of a town doctor who delivers both horses and babies!) The story is chock full of "Yes, Ma'ams," family values, loyalty and love. It has an understated quality that reminded me of Curtiss Ann Matlock's If Wishes Were Horses.

Be Mine stands head and shoulders about Guillaume's earlier work. It's a keeper.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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