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One Heart to Win
by Johanna Lindsey
(Gallery, $26, G) ISBN 978-14767-1426-4
This is Johanna Lindsey’s 50th anniversary romance novel and I am sad to report that it is far from her best. I have a plethora of Lindsey novels on my keeper shelf and this one will not join the list.

Set in the 1880s in Montana, the premise is centered around two feuding families. The reason for the feud dates back a generation when one man and one woman were engaged but their passion was more hate than love, resulting in an apparent dual killing. The Callahans and the Warrens, who were neighbors, now are warring factions with the water rights of the stream/pond between their properties at issue.

The women of the current generation decided that the eldest son of the Callahans and the daughter of the Warrens must marry and live on the property adjacent to the water to end the feud. And until they were grown up to do it, there would be a truce. Following the agreement, Rose Warren left her husband Frank, taking four year old Tiffany back to New York. Since that time, Tiffany has only seen her brothers and even though she waited, she never saw her father come East. Neither parent will discuss their separation, but as the story unfolds we find out there was a nefarious plot that forced Rose to leave her family and never see her husband again.

At eighteen, it is now time for Tiffany to head to Montana to see her father and to meet her betrothed. Rose has agreed to a two month visit and accepts that if Tiffany cannot love or at least accept Hunter Callahan, she does not have to marry him. Tiffany has been raised in the society of a modern New York and does not see Montana in her future. On the train from Chicago, where she left her mother, there is a robbery. Tiffany had met a young woman traveling alone who declared she is the housekeeper hired by none other than Frank Warren. When Jennifer Fleming decids not to continue her journey and the train is met by two of the Callahans, Tiffany decides to act as if she is Jennifer and to act in disguise as the housekeeper lured away from the Warren’s by the Callahans. It is impulsive and totally without sense. But in her mind this will allow her to avoid her father a little longer and give her a chance to meet and see her fiance without him putting on airs to impress her.

Hunter Callahan is not any more enamored of the idea of wedding someone he doesn’t know than Tiffany. He is a typical alpha male cowboy and he has enjoyed several women in the multiple years since he has been a man. He is attracted to “Jenny” right away and sees no harm in flirting with her. With the hidden identity, Tiffany finds this flirtation both flattering and maddening.

The rest of the story involves Tiffany trying to act like a servant and do things she has never done, like cook and clean. She also tries to get to know Hunter and separate her feelings from her hatred of her situation. We learn about the feud and the added dangers in Montana including a mining operation who want to use Callahan land when the Callahans have not given them the rights to use it.

This story is long, at times absurd and most of the times, tedious. Tiffany is immature and petulant. Hunter is charming but has no substance. There are more sparks between Tiffany and the hired gun Degan than there was between Tiffany and Hunter. In fact, as the first interactions occurred, I was convinced this was the plotline, only to be disappointed. I can see Lindsey building a story around Degan in the future and he deserved better than Tiffany too. But Hunter didn’t deserve Tiffany either. Here was a woman who did not know how to cook, agree to cook. Here was a woman who didn’t like dust from the horses befriend a piglet and turn it into a pet. She is not a heroine that the reader could embrace.

Joanna Lindsey was a staple when I was growing up as a romance reader. Her stories of the Regency era were and are classics. There were many westerns of her design on my keeper shelves. One Heart to Win does not live up to the standards she set in her early career and will not grace my shelves for re-reading.

--Shirley Lyons

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