A Woman's Touch
by Bernadette Carr
(Love Spell, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52261-6
***
There were so many things I liked about A Woman's Touch. The heroine is an absolute delight, the hero is capable and sexy, and the writing is fresh and skillful. Add to that, the book has no real villains or distracting subplots to take away from the main story. It focuses throughout on the relationships between the major characters, and that's something I really enjoy.

So, for about two-thirds of the book, I was contemplating a four-heart review, and I even toyed with making it a five, depending on the last third. Unfortunately, that last third so completely failed to deliver what I wanted that it brought my personal rating down to a three.

The book is a straightforward time-travel romance. Courtney James, a modern gal, is drawn back to 1896 Montana with the help of a mysterious Native American shaman and a twelve-year-old boy's birthday wish. When she "lands" on a hill in the middle of miles of open country, she is found by the only nearby residents the aforementioned twelve-year-old boy, Peter, and his two half-brothers, Matt and Travis Ward. The three live on a mid-sized cattle ranch miles from the nearest town.

One of the things I liked immediately about this book was that Courtney doesn't realize for a while that she's been cast backwards in time. She doesn't know how she got from her home in Canada to the Big Sky County, but she's thinking more along the lines of kidnapping than time travel. When she discovers the rustic state of the Ward brothers' ranch (i.e. no telephone, an outhouse instead of a bathroom), she figures they must simply be awfully poor. Even the appearance of a buckboard wagon instead of a car doesn't reveal the truth to her. She doesn't catch on until she gets a look at the town, which looks to her like a set for a Western movie. Since she'd been planning to use the bank in town to have some money wired from her account in Canada, she's quite shocked indeed. Until she can figure out how to get back to her own time, she sees no immediate alternative but to accept the hospitality that Travis Ward offers.

Travis is a nice guy who is immediately attracted to the lovely Courtney. He certainly doesn't mind her staying at the ranch for a while. Peter, likewise, is thrilled about her sudden appearance he'd been missing his mother (who lives back East), so he'd wished for a woman to come to the ranch to make the place feel like a home. So the only problem with Courtney staying at the ranch is... Matt.

Matt is a wounded hero. He's lost a lot of people he loves, and he likes his life as it is simple, predictable, uncomplicated. He doesn't want any change, and he especially doesn't want any change that involves a strange woman entering his life. And to him, Courtney James is strange, and shocking from her tight jeans (pants on a woman!) to her uncovered head (what? no bonnet?) to her lack of experience with getting out of bed at the crack of dawn.

Between the clothes, her mysterious arrival, and her admission that she often works late in the evening (she's a computer programmer back in 1996), he assumes she's a runaway prostitute. Either that, or just plain crazy, or maybe both. In any case, he's not happy about her residence at the ranch, he's not happy about his brother's marriage-minded intentions, and he's really not happy about his own raging, although reluctant, attraction to Courtney.

And that's what the book deals with. The "events" that make up the plot are mostly the day-to-day business of living, the interactions between the characters. The sexual tension builds and builds and builds between Courtney and Matt, while both of them find their emotions getting tangled up in the mix. Courtney's relationships with Peter and Travis are explored, as well, and all of this is fine reading simple, compelling, often fun, and completely enjoyable.

And then the book started to lose me, and it was all Matt's fault. I understood his suspicion, his guardedness, his reluctance to change the author gave me good reason to understand them. But after a while, enough got to be enough. He's so stiff, so cold, so hard-hearted toward Courtney for so long that I lost patience with him. He's not a complete bastard, but he does and says some pretty unfair and unpleasant things to her, and it takes him a heck of a long time to realize that he can't let her walk out of his life.

And when he did finally realize it, there were some very simple words I wanted to hear from him before I heard anything else. Those words were "I'm sorry. I've been an idiot." Did I hear those words? Nope. And after all Courtney and I had put up with from this guy, I just needed a little more remorse.

That's it. That's really my only problem with the book, but it was a big enough problem for me that it made the ending highly unsatisfying. It's still a pretty good read, for all the reasons I mentioned above, and because I just liked Courtney so darn much. But in the end, she deserved better, and so do readers of A Woman's Touch.

--Ellen Hestand


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