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The Lady's Man by Linda Turner
(Silh. Int. Mom. #931, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07931-1
****
The Lady's Man is the first of five books about Those Marrying McBrides!, "five single McBride siblings who have always been unlucky in love. But it looks like their luck is about to change . . . "

Western Colorado is the setting for this timely story about the reentry of wolves into what was once their natural habitat. Elizabeth Davis is a project leader for the wolf recovery project and has a dual role; she has to assuage the townspeople that her wolves are not a threat to the cattle industry. Even if she is not successful in persuading the residents that the wolves prefer elk and will leave the cattle alone, she is charged with reintroducing the wolves into the wild.

Elizabeth and her team were involved with the Yellowstone release, so she's used to the animosity and hatred that are seemingly integral to her work. When a stranger stops and offers help when she finds herself stranded one night on a deserted road, she is immediately suspicious and tells him that her husband, the sheriff, will be along soon.

Zeke McBride knows that the sheriff is a single man and correctly determines that this woman is nervous with his presence. He's impressed with her competence and her physical beauty. An attractive man who is used to the admiration of women, he's also intrigued at her continual rebuffs. Some questions the next day fill in most of Zeke's answers. He now knows why the woman was wary, but isn't going to let the 'sheriff husband' fib go unnoticed.

The Lady's Man has riveting conflict, both external and internal. The external conflict is certainly not a surprise and is well-founded. Someone in the community does not want the wolves released. With that end in mind, the culprit begins a psychological attack on Elizabeth. When his psychological attack becomes a physical one, Zeke knows that this woman is more important to him than his own safety.

The internal conflict begins with the title, typecasting Zeke as a womanizer, a rogue and a man who prefers the adulation of many women as opposed to settling for a monogamous relationship. That is exactly how Elizabeth judges Zeke from their first meeting, seeing him as a charming, insincere reprobate. She has no problem believing the gossip that claims that Zeke was found with another woman only a short time before his wedding.

Zeke will be the first to admit that he enjoys the company of women but knows that he'll gladly settle down when he finds the right woman. His ego is so healthy that he's able to ignore the misleading, ill-founded gossip about his engagement. It takes Zeke a while to discover that Elizabeth's perception of him is colored by her disdain of her father's repeated adultery and her mother's constant forgiveness. Elizabeth has vowed that she won't fall for a charmer, nor will she continually forgive and forget.

The only aspect of the story that I felt was weak is that of the villain. Basically I've discovered two schools of thought when dealing with antagonists. You can either have a great number of suspects to choose from or have the villain spring from nowhere. The second scenario sometimes makes the appearance of the villain anticlimactic. Here comes this guy you don't know, and wham, he's in your face, acting menacing and threatening. Personally I'd rather have a large selection of choices so that I can make educated guesses rather than to be sideswiped, totally unaware, when the bad guy makes his appearance.

Linda Turner does a credible job making us appreciate the plight of people who work on animal recovery programs. The wolves' habits, tracking devices, even how to track them in the Rockies . . . all are explained in an engrossing style.

It's easy to recommend The Lady's Man. The heroine is savvy, the hero is captivating and the wolves are worth saving.

--Linda Mowery


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