"Heart of the West Series"

The Charm School

The Drifter

Irish Magic

Husband for Hire by Susan Wiggs
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-82585-4
Bachelor auctions sure have become a popular plot device in category romances lately. I’m not sure if this is the third or fourth story with this particular twist that I’ve read recently. Still, the whole idea does have a certain appeal. Imagine bidding for (or, better yet, have some one else bidding for) and winning the man of your dreams.

Historical author Susan Wiggs’ first short contemporary romance shows clearly how a talented writer can take a hackneyed plot and, by creating interesting and believable characters, come up with an entertaining and moving tale. Husband for Hire is the story of a man who realizes that family and love mean more than all the success in the world.

A small town in Wyoming is not a likely place for a bachelor auction. They are more likely to be a big city event. But Lost Springs Ranch in Lightning Creek, Wyoming, is in financial trouble. This home for troubled and wayward boys was the last stop for many of them before reform school. And its regimen of hard work, discipline, kindness, and achievement worked. Now its graduates are rallying to their old school, agreeing to be “auctioned off” to fill its too empty coffers.

Twyla McCabe isn’t interested in the bachelor auction. The proprietor of Twyla’s Tease and Tweeze and a single mother, she is once burned, twice shy. Her early marriage to her high school sweetheart ended in a nasty divorce and she has been making her own way ever since.

But her loyal customers think differently. They know that in a couple of weeks, Twyla’s tenth high school reunion is coming up. Twyla was “the girl most likely to succeed,” but she had postponed her dreams of college to put her husband through law school. Then, he upped and left her for a rich woman who could further his career. No way is she going back to “Hell Creek.”

Rob Carter spent most of his youth at Lost Springs Ranch. His mother had left him there when he was six. Rob is one of the ranch’s big successes. He went to Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship and then on to medical school. A pathologist with his own lab in Denver, he moves in the city’s highest social circles. Indeed, his girl friend Lauren, whose family foundation has supported Lost Springs Ranch, is the one who convinces him to participate in the auction.

Of course, Twyla’s interfering friends “buy” Rob for Twyla, whether she wants him or not. Rob is to be her “pretend” fiancé, so that she can go back home again with her head held high and face the demons of her past.

Twyla is a fine heroine. She is caring and hardworking and down to earth. She’s also a gorgeous redhead. She’s not at all the cool, sophisticated, career woman that Rob is used to. But he finds himself strangely attracted to this woman who was raised in a trailer park by her feckless but charming father and her homemaker mother.

Rob is really at the center of the book. He is the one who has to come to terms with whether the life he has is the one he wants. He seems to have it all, but does he? Two days with Twyla, and Rob is no longer certain of the kind of life he wants to live.

Wiggs is as deft at drawing all the secondary characters as she is at portraying her hero and heroine. She manages in a few sentences or paragraphs to create fully developed people, whether they are the beauty shop customers, Twyla’s father-missing son, her agoraphobic mother, or her smarmy ex-husband. In this, her first short contemporary, Wiggs shows that she has already mastered the challenges of the shorter format.

Husband for Hire is a fine first book in Harlequin’s new “Heart of the West” series. I will undoubtedly be sucked into this series just as I was into the “Fortune’s Children” books. I kind of wish Wiggs was writing them all. Then I’d know that they’d all be good reads. But then, I want her to keep on writing those excellent historical romances as well…..

--Jean Mason

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