|Anna Jeffrey: The Love of a Cowboy|
Onyx (Paperback), ISBN 0-451-41091-1
Dahlia Montgomery's world turns upside when her husband dies. While supposedly at a business conference, Kenneth ran his car off a bridge -- with one of Dahlia's friends in the car with him. After losing a battle with the IRS and being forced to declare bankruptcy, she moves home to Loretta, Texas, to help her dad out in the little grocery he operates. Dahlia's friend, Piggy, convinces her she needs a change of scenery, so the two head for Idaho for the summer to work on a Forest Service surveying crew.
While in Callister, Dahlia meets local rancher Luke McRae. Attracted to him from the start, she fights the attraction as best she can -- especially after hearing rumors of his many girlfriends. But the best laid plans exist to go awry, and the pair spend a steamy summer together. But Luke's overbearing mother, Claire -- who doesn't want him bringing home another "outsider"/gold digger like his first wife -- mucks things up. Ashamed and humiliated, Dahlia receives another blow when her father suffers a stroke.
The next few months pass in a blur. Dahlia must shoulder the responsibility of managing the grocery store as well as caring for her father -- and her expanding waistline. Her last lovemaking session with Luke left her pregnant. Before she left, Luke -- already a father to two teenage daughters and a mentally handicapped, seven-year-old son -- told Dahlia he didn't want any more children. And Dahlia always knew that the ranching business always came first. Despite Piggy's pleas, Dahlia never informs Luke of his impending fatherhood. Then her father suffers another stroke, leaving him in a vegetative state. After painful consideration, she pulls the plug on her father scant weeks before giving birth to her son, Joe.
A letter from Piggy alerts Luke about Joe, which sends him straight to Texas. Throughout the year after Dahlia left, he missed her deeply, coming to realize that their relationship contained more than just good sex. He arrives in her Texas store, throwing Dahlia's world into chaos again. The sexual tension flares up again, but Dahlia fights it, refusing to believe Luke's world includes a place for her. But Luke believes his life won't be complete without her in it.
A touching and at times heartbreaking tale, Anna Jeffrey's debut novel makes for an excellent read. She gives both of her lead characters plenty of baggage, making them more lifelike. But occasionally the pair's inability to work things out drags on a bit long. In addition, the pregnancy "plot twist" could be spotted fairly early on. But those quibbles pale next to the overall strength of the book.
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