by Karen Robards

December 2001
ISBN: 0-671-78646-6
Reviewer Graphic Button Pocket Books
Mass Market Paperback

Paradise County is (according to this book) in Kentucky. Blue grass, horses, white fences, and all that wonderful stuff! Actually, the two families involved here give new meaning to the word 'dysfunctional'! Farm manager and horse trainer Joe Welch is father to three, his wife having run off and left them all some years before. Besides his own place, Joe has managed Whistledown Farm, the country estate of billionaire Charles Haywood. Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the story, Joe's fortunes take a turn for the worse when he discovers his employer, Charles Haywood, dead!

Alexandra Haywood, Charles' daughter, has pretty much raised her sister, Neely, because Charles was quite busy making pots of money and marrying pots of women, none of whom wanted the bother of a kid. Yes sirree, these sure are difficult times for the traditional family unit. Given all this history, it's actually a miracle that Joe and Alex are attracted to each other! It would be understandable if they both ran really fast in opposite directions, seeing as neither has had much in the way of success when it comes to relationships. (Oh I forgot, Alex has just been dumped when her fiancÚ learned that Charles Haywood was actually bankrupt!).

There is a definite plot here, and it doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that something doesn't smell too good about the whole matter of the Haywood estate - unfortunately, Joe is too busy deciding that something smells really good about Alex to pay as much attention as he should to some pretty obvious clues. This story is redeemed by some fine writing when it comes to Joe and Alex themselves. Faced with difficult situations, neither is afraid to step up and find a solution, although both are hesitant when it comes to accepting the attraction between them. They very much compliment each other, especially when it comes to the kids - Joe's discipline is just what Neely could use, and Alex's ability to communicate would benefit Joe's kids.

This is a good, solid story with a well thought out plot, and two very likeable protagonists. The secondary characters are present as necessary and don't clutter up the storyline, and the descriptions of the family relationships and interactions are right on target. The fact that the underlying plot is quite a frightening one is allowed to creep through just enough to get the heart rate up a bit, but not enough to turn this tale into a whodunit or a murder mystery. The balance is just right here, and I'd encourage anyone who enjoys a good contemporary romance to read this book if they get the chance.

Reviewed in December 2001 by Celia.

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