AKA: Marriage

Diagnosis: Daddy

Hitched by Christmas
by Jule McBride
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-82590-0
The latest installment of the “Heart of the West” bachelor auction series has Claire Buchanan’s sisters buying hunk Luke Lydell as a kind of a bridesmaid gift. Claire has just gotten engaged to staid and proper Clive Stoddard. The marriage makes all sorts of sense. Claire is very fond of Clive and the wedding will unite the Stoddard and the Buchanan ranches. Still, her sisters have decided that Claire needs some excitement in her life before she settles down. And Luke looks like he can add excitement to any woman’s life!

What the sisters don’t fully understand is that Claire and Luke have a history. When they were teenagers, they were best of friends for one lovely summer. But Luke had rejected Claire’s offer to become more than friends. He couldn’t imagine that the daughter of a rich rancher and an orphan who had been abandoned on the steps of the Lost Springs Ranch for Boys could ever forge a life with each other.

Both had gotten on with their lives. Claire had become a psychologist and a respected western artist. Luke had studied criminology in college and now was both a cowboy and a private investigator. But neither had gotten over their first love.

The auction brings the two briefly together and it becomes clear that there is still a spark between them. But Claire is engaged to Clive and Luke still believes he has nothing to offer her. Never having known love or family, Luke feels he is fated to be alone.

Then, only days before her wedding is scheduled, Claire seeks out Luke. Clive has disappeared and she wants Luke to find him. The search for Clive brings Luke and Claire together and forces them to face their feelings. As their investigation continues, they discover each other. They also discover that Clive is indeed in danger. And then there is the mystery of Luke’s parentage to uncover.

Hitched by Christmas is a nice “second chance at love” story, if one can accept the premise that a teenage love affair can endure over a decade of separation. Both the hero and the heroine are attractive and likable characters. The book contains a sweet romance, a bit of a mystery, and some pleasant humor. It is a most acceptable entry into the “Heart of the West” series.

--Jean Mason

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