The Heiress & the Sheriff

Millionaire on Her Doorstep

Should Have Been Her Child

White Dove’s Promise

A South Texas Christmas
by Stella Bagwell
(Silh. Spec. Ed. #1789, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-24789-3
What ever happened to boy meets girl, they fall in love and life goes on? It seems to be the trend, which is followed by this author, to develop a pretense for a fake engagement which results in love. A South Texas Christmas is a decent story if you can get around this rather tired plot device and the fact that the two principals meet one day, announce they are engaged the next and spend less than a week together before they realize they are in love.

Raine Crockett has always wanted to know who her father was. Her mother, Esther, was found on the side of a road just shortly before Raine was born and has no memory of her life before waking up outside of Goliad, Texas, near San Antonio. She got a job, had her baby and went to work on the Sandbur Ranch, where they have remained. Raine grew up very sheltered in the loving arms of the Sanchez and Saddler families who own the Sandbur. She went away to college, had one unhappy love affair and has been working as the accountant on the ranch for the last few years. Now at age twenty-four, she is determined to defy her mother and seek out her father.

Raine calls on Neil Rankin, a forty-year old attorney in New Mexico, who is looking for Darla Ketchum Carlton, a woman who left her family almost twenty-five years ago. Her son has hired Neil to look one more time for his lost mother. Neil has placed an ad, with a picture of Darla, and the woman looks amazingly like Esther. Raine is hoping that Neil can help her track her father through the picture.

In order to investigate, Neil comes to San Antonio. He and Raine hatch a scheme to pose as a couple in front of Esther so that Neil can come to the ranch and ask questions without Esther guessing why he is really there. One thing leads to another and they find themselves not just dating, but engaged. Neil stays on and the entire ranch throws them an engagement party. They are physically attracted but both recognize that they have no chance of a future. Raine is afraid of commitment due to her one affair and Neil is convinced he will never marry because of his parents’ sour relationship.

The story moves on the strength of their relationship and their search for the truth. They are cute together, teasing, fighting their attraction and trying to figure out the truth while playing their roles. They are both nice people and they do complement each other. The biggest obstacle for the reader is to forget that they only just met and can’t possibly be in real love so quickly. Lust, sure, but love? Another slightly disturbing issue is how quickly and how long Neil leaves his law practice without any major repercussions. The resolution to the mystery of Darla/Esther is a given, although the how and why are not revealed until the end. It is plausible but not really realistic. Surprisingly this works, though, because it fits with the basic premise of the whole story…plausible but not realistic.

For those who have followed the Men of the West series, there are a few characters from past stories and Neil was apparently introduced in a previous tale. There is some background from the other stories, primarily about the Ketchum family, thrown in, but luckily this story works without having to read the rest of the series.

A South Texas Christmas is not really about Christmas, although the holiday is observed. It is more about finding love when you least look for it. If you can believe it happens so fast, this story will keep you engaged.

--Shirley Lyons

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