The Heart of a Hero
by Judith Stacy
(Harlequin, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29044-6
****
While readers may find nothing original in this latest Harlequin historical, The Heart of a Hero is still a cute and cozy quick read (I breezed through it in about 4 hours) that benefits from enough romantic tension and homespun sugar to give you the warm fuzzies (starting with the three cuties on the adorable front cover.)

Former bad boy Jess Logan returns to Walker, Wyoming, to take over the care of his young niece and nephew following the death of their mother. Jess is a marked man from the minute he sets foot in Walker. Seems no one has forgotten his wild ways or the fact that he once served time for killing a man. But Jess has paid his debt to society and wants nothing more than to settle into a comfortable life with young Maggie and Jimmy. The town busy bodies think otherwise, and Jess has only one month to prove that he can care for the kids.

New schoolmarm Sarah Wakefield is Jess' neighbor. She sees that Jess genuinely cares for the kids, and she'd like to help…but she's got problems of her own. Having left St. Louis in a hurry, Sarah carries a secret she is sure would ruin her reputation if word reached the school board. But day by day as Sarah watches Jess struggle with the horrors of homemaking and the care and feeding of two little kids, her defenses break down. She becomes Jess's teacher, friend, confidante, and inevitably, his lover.

The love story between Sarah and Jess is simple and direct. With the exception of Sarah's secret (which I found to be ridiculous considering Sarah's education) the romance is devoid of any big misunderstandings or painful plot contrivances. Jess's redemption in the eyes of the town biddies is amusing and reminiscent of Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind".

There's nothing earth-shattering here, just a simple love story set in a simple town. Yet Author Judith Stacy (who also writes as Dorothy Howell) manages to keep it fresh and lively, giving the reader enough action to move things along without veering too far from the love story.

--Ann McGuire


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