Loving Wild by Lisa Ann Verge
(Harlequin Temptation #671, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-25771-6
****
Loving Wild is a change of pace book for me. The protagonists are not young, stars-in-their-eyes kids with the world at their feet. These two people have seen that life is not always rosy, but sometimes incredibly thorny.

It's also a story told on two levels, a dual journey. One journey is a canoe trip through uncharted white-water rapids, and the other is an emotional journey as two people, alone by circumstances, learn to trust and reach out to each other.

Free lance journalist Casey Michaels asks Dylan MacCabe if she can have exclusive rights to his story as he and a partner attempt to duplicate the route of a 17th century fur trader. Dylan, a high-school history teacher, has been given a grant to see if he can recreate the Frenchman's long-ago trip. He's so into authenticity that they'll be using a homemade canoe.

There's a glitch in Dylan's plans, though. His partner has been injured and cannot make the trip. The size of the canoe and the fact that part of the trip will be overland make it impossible for Dylan to journey alone. On such short notice, he's been unable to find anyone else to accompany him. Also, it's midsummer, and he's got to be back in school by September. He's able to convince Casey to be his partner. Knowing that her finances could use the added income and also knowing that she has nothing on her calendar for the next three weeks cause her to accept.

Dylan and Casey are true-to-life characters. There's nothing glitzy or oh-so-perfect about them. Early into the trip, Casey is looking at Dylan and cataloging her sins versus his attributes. He's getting more tanned while she's peeling. His unwashed hair can be covered up with a baseball cap; she's got to resort to a ponytail and barrettes. "He looked rakish with bristle on his face. Her legs, on the other hand, were looking just plain hairy." It's rare to read truth in advertising, especially on a camping trip. Kudos to Ms. Verge for this approach.

Dylan and Casey are complex characters, multifaceted people who have a past and therefore have emotional baggage. Dylan has been divorced twice and blames himself for both divorces. Here is a fine man who sees himself as dull and unexciting. Wrongwrongwrong! Casey is a widow who vowed after her husband's sudden death that she would depend on no one but herself. It takes this fine man, this man who is anything but dull and unexciting, to breach her defenses and force her to reassess her life's path. Through well-written points of view, we see the frailties of each and celebrate as they rise above their fears.

Truth be told, I wasn't really thrilled as I started Loving Wild. I normally don't care for people with excess emotional baggage. Face it. I'm not into angst and self-analysis. I guess I'm just superficial. I like my romances rosy, with a minimum of thorns. Well, call me wrong regarding this story. As the journey progressed and the characters shed more of their defenses, I became caught up in a very, very enjoyable story. I'm glad I went along for the trip, even if it was only figuratively.

--Linda Mowery


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