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A Rogue in Texas by Lorraine Heath
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80956-7
***
Grayson Rhodes, illegitimate son of an English nobleman, has come to Texas in the year 1865 to try and become a landowner, something he'll never be able to do in England. He is accompanied by two friends who are themselves landless younger sons. When A Rogue in Texas opens, the three men are being bounced around in the back of a wagon as it trundles its way toward their fortune.

Or so they think.

Their "fortune" turns out to be work as hired hands in the cotton fields of eastern Texas, taken on by women whose husbands never returned from the War Between the States. Elizabeth, the elder of two sisters, is glad for the help and eagerly takes on one of the men. Abbie Westland, the younger sister, is left with Grayson.

Abbie is a widow with two children. Her cotton crop will soon need picking and there are few men to help. Grayson decides to stay on and find out the quickest way to get some land of his own. Meanwhile, he'll sleep in the barn and make the best of things with the Widow Westland. All goes well until the night Grayson steps out for some fresh air and surprises Abbie taking a bath in the dark. Now he can't get Abbie off his mind, and she's equally intrigued by this handsome Englishman who seems to enjoy honest, hard labor.

This story is mainly the tale of Grayson's growth from an indolent ladies man to a person of strength and character. That the transformation takes place through hard labor makes it seem plausible; thrown into a new country to sink or swim, Grayson swims, and his self-doubts along the way contribute to a rich characterization. Abbie is sure that this elegant man can never really care for her. As she gradually loses the chip on her shoulder and blossoms into a loving and caring foil for Grayson, readers will be drawn further and further into their story.

Then the story shifts away from their relationship. The final conflict was external, and it jarred. Just as Grayson and Abbie reach the point where they open their hearts to one another, a monkey wrench is thrown into the plot, and it was one I was sorry to see the author include because it was the one I was afraid was coming. I didn't enjoy the last third of the book as much as the first two-thirds. I'd grown to enjoy Abbie and Grayson and the kids, and the major obstacle thrown into their path seemed to be there just to provide a major obstacle and keep the story going.

The secondary characters were fun. One of the friends takes up with the daughter of a saloon owner, and far from being a floozy, the girl is smart and sassy beyond her years. A perfect match for a pampered nobleman. I would have liked more of their story.

Lorraine Heath has crafted a heartwarming romance with a delightful premise. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of Grayson's friends, either. And if standard "major obstacles" don't turn you off, you may well be enchanted with A Rogue in Texas.

--Cathy Sova


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