Wes Stryker's Wrangled Wife
by Sandra Steffen
(Silh. Romance #1362, $3.50, G) ISBN 0-373-19362-9
****
Here's a delightful category romance about two people who have no intention of falling in love and even actively resist it, but end up there anyway. Wes Stryker is an ex-rodeo champ, now retired, who's come back to his hometown of Jasper Gulch, South Dakota. His late father left him with a rundown ranch and a pile of back taxes. There are about six single women in the whole town, none of whom spark his interest. To top it off, now comes the news that he's been named as guardian of two little kids, children of his best friends. The friends have died. Little Logan and Olivia need a home, and Wes is determined to provide it.

Then he meets Jayne Kincaid. In town for her brother's wedding, she and Wes find themselves in the same bar on Christmas Eve. Wes tries to strike up a conversation, but Jayne puts up definite "not interested" signals. Her marriage ended unhappily and she has sworn off men. Wes isn't convinced, however, and is determined to see her again. When he slips on some ice, dislocating his shoulder, his inability to get up has him reaching for the cell phone in his pocket and reaching Jayne.

Jayne can't understand her interest in this cowboy. Hasn't she seen firsthand what falling too hard can do to a woman? Okay, not all men are skunks, but why take the chance? Except she can't seem to resist Wes.

There were a couple of things that stood out about this story. First was the twist on the standard "hero who vows never to love again" theme. In this book, it's the heroine who is gun-shy. And while she doesn't go around loudly proclaiming that she'll never fall in love again, she is definitely wary, which worked. Second, both Wes and Jayne have had somewhat difficult childhoods, but neither of them fall into the victimization trap and use it as an excuse to explain their adult actions. Thank goodness. Instead, it's just part of the fabric of their personalities.

Once the kids arrive and Wes has to convince Jayne that she really does want kids after all, the plot takes on a new dimension. Logan and Olivia argue and tattle and bicker, just like ordinary kids. It almost got to be a bit overwhelming. All comes right at the end, though. For a sweet, realistic romance built around two very likable characters, Wes Stryker's Wrangled Wife fits the bill.

--Cathy Sova


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