The Love of a Cowboy

The Love of a Stranger

The Love of a Lawman
by Anna Jeffrey
(Signet, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-451-21388-2
Contemporary western romance is in good hands with Anna Jeffrey, whose latest release, The Love of a Lawman, finishes up a trilogy. The stories are set in the small town of Callister, Idaho, and while a few of the characters from the previous books pop up from time to time, Jeffrey wisely leaves them on the sidelines. Good thing. This romance is plenty strong enough on its own.

Isabelle Rondeau has returned to Callister with her young daughter, Ava, planning to take up residence on the abandoned family property and pursue her dream of breeding and training cutting horses. Isabelle, daughter of Callisterís most notorious drunk, left town at seventeen with her boyfriend, Billy Bledsoe, and followed him to Texas. There they built a successful training business on the strength of Isabelleís skill with horses, but Billy never got around to marrying her. Surrounded by wealthy horse owners, Billyís descent into a partying life of drugs, alcohol, and women finally proved to be too much for Isabelle. Taking Ava and three valuable horses, she determined to make something of herself.

John Bradshaw walks back into her life when heís called to their house to investigate a dog shooting. John, who is Callisterís reluctant Ė and temporary Ė sheriff, is a former rodeo star who remembers Isabelle from high school, though he was two years behind her. What he remembers most is how attracted he was to her, and that doesnít seem to have lessened over the years. Johnís life has also been upended following a divorce that separated him from his two young sons. Isabelleís and Johnís lives converge when Isabelle advertises for help working with her cutting horses, and John answers, looking to make a little extra money.

The stage is set for a hot romance when John and Isabelle finally decide they can no longer ignore the attraction sizzling between them. In this area, the author gets it exactly right. What starts out as simply an explosion of lust gradually deepens into love, and while this is a familiar plot setup, here it unfolds slowly enough that it feels authentic. John and Isabelle gradually learn to trust one another as they discover each otherís secrets. Isabelle is hiding something that represents a huge obstacle to her future, at least in her mind. Johnís casual acceptance of her problem, coupled with his quick assurance that he can help her deal with it, is endearing.

A conflict is thrown into the story that involves Isabelleís loyalty to her ne-er-do-well younger brother, and since the brother is clearly in the wrong and she knows it, it only makes Isabelle look somewhat foolish. Family loyalty is one thing, but this felt like a contrived way to push the couple apart. Mercifully, itís brief. The problem of Johnís custody of his sons is also dealt a lightning-fast resolution that is at complete odds with the story up to that point.

Yet the central romance is strong. I especially liked the aura of realism that Jeffrey lends to her setting. Neither of the leads has any money to speak of; in fact, elements of their surroundings are somewhat shabby. Isabelleís place is run-down and worn. John is pretty much broke and scraping together whatever money he can to make his child-support payments. Their hopes hinge on the horses and each other, and it makes the love story stronger. These are two characters a reader can really cheer for.

The Love of a Lawman is a fine contemporary romance that will leave readers wanting to search out the previous two books in the trilogy. Anna Jeffrey has just the right touch with a western setting. This oneís a treat.

--Cathy Sova

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