If you like your romances on the sweet side, adore pregnant heroines, and love cowboys and kids, then consider this a four-heart review. Otherwise, I found Just the Man She Needed to be yet another solid, but less than original tale featuring the old plot standards.
Emily Lawrence, recently widowed and nine-months pregnant, lives with her young son Mark on a struggling Montana ranch. During a snowstorm, she hears a knock at her door, opens it, and finds Slade Coleburn standing before her. His truck is about to run out of gas in the storm and he needs a place to stay for the night. Though common sense tells Emily to send the stranger on his way, she sees the warmth and compassion in his eyes and agrees to let him stay in an empty barn stall.
Slade is a lonely, haunted man, a prototypical Alpha male, who's desperate to locate his twin brother, who was adopted when Slade was a baby. Slade spent his childhood in boys' school, so he has little sense of what makes a family, but seeing Emily with her young son makes him long for that sense of belonging. He convinces Emily to let him stay on the ranch for awhile -- after all, she's about to give birth and she needs all the help she can get feeding animals and taking care of the place.
Emily goes into labor quite suddenly, and Slade is there to deliver her daughter, Amanda. This brings them closer together, and Slade begins to feel the beginnings of ties to the small family. Mark certainly adores the older man -- unlike Mark's father, Slade allows the child to help him out on the farm, giving the child plenty of attention, especially since Emily's attention is on her daughter. But Slade is also extremely attracted to Emily and her gentle, but headstrong ways.
Emily, too, has feelings for Slade, but she also feels the responsibilities she has to her two children and the ranch. This lonesome cowboy won't be staying for long, and she's not the kind of woman to have a short-term fling. To complicate matters, she lives in a small gossipy town, and everyone knows she has a "drifter" staying at the ranch. We also learn that Emily felt little to nothing for her deceased husband -- only till she meets Slade does she feel desire for the first time in her life. By the end of the book, Slade manages to understand that for the first time he feels part of a family, and Emily learns to ask for what she really wants.
The problem I had with Just the Man She Needed was that I couldn't get past the fact that Emily stuck by her first husband, even though she had no feelings for him. I guess in a traditional romance, it shows that she's a "stand by her man" type of gal, but I also got the sense that she wasn't smitten with him from the get-go. Though Slade saw Emily as "headstrong," considering that she stayed in a loveless marriage for so long, this description didn't jell with me. Slade fared a bit better in the characterization department, though I felt his jealousy over Emily's friend Dallas was over-the-top. But hey, cowboys -- they're passionate guys.
The author did a nice job with the sensuality of the book. The descriptions are tame, but you can sense the urgency and desire between Emily and Slade. Fans of categories featuring babies and cowboys may give this book a higher rating than I did. Just the Man She Needed was just not what I needed in a romance.
-- Diana Burrell