Man of the West
by Sadie Callahan
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-451-22959-5
In the middle of the night, Jolie Jensen sneaks out of her east Texas trailer house with her ten-year-old daughter Danni. Jolie’s ex-husband Billy Dean Jensen is out of jail, and he refuses to leave. High school dropout and self-avowed trailer trash, Jolie knows that her only hope of escaping Billy Dean is while he’s asleep dead-drunk. She’s switched license plates with another employee’s car at the Cactus Café where she’s waitressed for years so if Billy Dean calls the police on her they won’t know her license number. Jolie hopes that her new job as cook at the Circle C ranch in west Texas will help her get a new beginning and give Danni a better life.  Her cousin Amanda, who works for the Willard County sheriff, helped her find the job. 

Jake Strayhorn is the sheriff.  After a career in the Army and big-city police work, Jake has returned to his hometown of Lockett, Texas. He’s estranged from some members of the Strayhorn family who own the Circle C. He’s vowed never to set foot on the place again. Jake is a hard, conscientious sheriff, determined to keep the drug and gang problems of other parts of Texas out of Willard County. He’s starting to feel a little dissatisfied; he’s wondering if he’ll ever find a woman to share his life. 

Jake soon meets the new Circle C cook. He’s attracted to her but thinks she’s too young for him plus he’s sure she’s hiding something. Jolie can’t help noticing how good-looking the sheriff is but is afraid he’ll discover the switched license plates. Even though she’s comfortably settled in her new job with new friends and Danni is adjusting well, Jolie is still fearful that Billy Dean will eventually locate her.   

If you just read the title and the blurb on the back cover, you could easily assume that the title Man of the West means the book is about the hero and his new love, the heroine, and all the bumps they face on the road to happily ever after. You’d be wrong. The title ought to be revised to Men of the West. There are multiple subplots with multiple characters that threaten to overwhelm the main plot.  

Man of the West is the sequel to Lone Star Woman, and the author hasn’t given up on the hero and heroine of the earlier novel. (The earlier story figures into Jake’s background, but incomplete information is given in this second book.) Jude Strayhorn and Brady Fallon have settled into a comfortable marriage with a baby on the way but haven’t lost the spark that brought them together in the first place. That’s nice to know, but most romance readers would expect just such an outcome for them. All the attention they receive in Man of the West is superfluous. 

Suzanne Breedlove, Jude’s best friend, and horse breeder Pat Garner are growing closer. Pat knows he’s in love with her, but he can’t help worrying that she’s still in love with the rodeo cowboy who strung her along for years. If he decides he wants her back, does Pat stand a chance? 

The frequent shifting of focus from one plot to another makes for uneven pacing. Furthermore, tension builds throughout the book towards a strong climax then … phfft.  It’s all anticlimactic and disappointing and leaves a reader feeling deprived. 

Man of the West is an acceptable romance with likable characters, but there are enough flaws to keep it from rising to recommended status. 

--Lesley Dunlap 

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