Code Name: Cowboy

Man on a Mission

Once Forbidden

Out of Exile

The Perfect Family

Rodeo Dad

Rules of Engagement

Safety in Numbers

Strangers When We Married

Natural Born Protector
by Carla Cassidy
(SRS # 1527, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-27597-7
Carla Cassidy continues her series about the protection service of the West Family. Hank Tyler is their new hire, on a subcontractor basis only since work is scarce at this time. Tyler is trying to recover from the death of his wife from cancer two years earlier. Unable to tolerate ranching without her, Hank sold his ranch and moved with his young daughter Maddie into town.

His mother lives in the same apartment complex so she can take care of Maddie while Hank is out of town on work. Emotionally, he keeps distancing himself from Maddie.

Hank makes friends with Lainie Thompson, a neighbor in the complex, and Maddie spends a lot of time with Lainie and begins to see  her in the role of stepmother. Then Lainie is brutally murdered and her sister Melody comes to town to push the investigation and to wind up her sister’s affairs.

Melody has spent a life time "mothering” Lainie and getting her out of scrape after scrape. Their relationship is a thinly disguised class in co-dependency. Hank and Melody meet; realizing they have the same goal in finding Lainie's killer, they form a quasi-partnership. To Hank it is less a partnership than an effort to protect Melody, as early on it is obvious that someone is threatened by her presence. After warnings for her to leave town are ignored, the pace gently escalates throughout their investigation.

The mutual attraction proceeds in a lazy manner as well. In this novel, the romance and suspense are cultivated in an almost tension free environment. One never feels that Melody is truly at risk, and one never feels that Hank has the depth of emotion or character to become a full partner in any burgeoning relationship.

Character development is shallow, with a focus on only what will move this simple story line ahead. Perky little Maddie perhaps adds the most interest to the story, but she is an infrequent visitor to the storyline. The pace is slow, and the unraveling of the killer's identity and motives are barely credible, as very little time throughout the story had been devoted to the maturing of that plot line.

Carla Cassidy is a prolific writer and newcomers to her work are urged to select an earlier novel for their first reading experience, thereby opening the door to becoming a Cassidy fan.

--Thea Davis

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