The Lone Wolf by Sandy Steen
(Harl. Tempt. #691, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-25791-0
The Lone Wolf is a spinoff of After the Loving (HT 626). Sandy Steen states on the verso page that, "After creating him (Reese Barrett) as the hero's best friend in After the Loving, I just couldn't forget him." Knowing from the beginning that I was reading a 'second in a series,' I read several synopses of ATL. I had a handle on the back story. My only wish is that I had read them in order because Belle and Cade, the characters from ATL, play an integral part in this story, too. If continuing characters appeal to you, then you may want to hunt for ATL before you read this story.

Reese Barrett places an ad in an upscale personals magazine, Texas Men. He's envious of the happiness that his best friend Cade has found with his wife, Belle. Reese doesn't know if anything will come of his ad, but he's bone tired of his lonely lifestyle. Serious, the headline stated.

Shea Alexander picks up a copy of Texas Men and decides that corresponding with someone anonymously will be harmless. It will allow her to educate herself on the finer points of flirting and how to attract men. Shea is a lovely woman with a genius IQ , but she's hidden her shyness and low self-esteem from everyone but her best friend Belle. To begin her education, Shea chooses five men she'll correspond with but is mesmerized with one ad. Serious, the headline stated. Shea, still under the mistaken impression that she is unattractive, answers the letters by using a name she's always liked. In her correspondence, she is totally honest and reveals much about herself, but uses the name Natalie.

Reese finds out that Belle's best friend, Shea Alexander, will be assisting him for several weeks at Belle's Lubbock winery. He's physically attracted to this woman, but is beginning to be smitten with a woman with whom he's been corresponding: Natalie.

Doesn't this idea sound like it has potential? I was thinking that this could be an amusing, enjoyable story. This premise, one of an alter ego, is never realized. The story starts with such promise, but the dual attraction of Shea/Natalie just fizzles. It isn't resurrected until the end, unfortunately for us. Yes, it does become The Big Misunderstanding. Poor Reese gets his feelings hurt, takes his toys and goes home. This theme of duality Batman and Bruce Wayne, Superman and Clark Kent, Wilby Daniels and the shaggy dog could have been an integral part of the story and have added such depth, but it is virtually ignored. It reminded me of a murder mystery with no murder.

Shea is also attracted to Reese but is so intimidated by his macho good looks that she feels the same old inferiority. Their relationship is at best combative. I did appreciate Shea. She is a bright woman who's proud of her brains and uses them. She's read up on wine-making techniques and is already knowledgeable. Her low self-esteem is sometimes a trial. When she initially acts prissy and uptight around Reese, their chemistry is hard to see. It does develop, but very slowly.

I'm really sorry that The Lone Wolf isn't a book I can wholeheartedly recommend. Sandy Steen is an established, talented author I trust. I'll still be buying her books, but the memory of The Lone Wolf's somewhat less than stellar accomplishments will stay with me for a while.

--Linda Mowery

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