The Cowboy’s Baby Surprise
by Linda Conrad
(Silh. Desire #1446, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76446-4
This book is an overwrought, over-complicated mix of cowboys, secret babies, FBI agents and amnesia. The fact that no one is secretly related to royalty is probably just an oversight.

Eighteen months ago, FBI agent Carley Mills’ partner, Witt Davidson, disappeared without a trace in the middle of a “sting.” This was particularly devastating for Carley who had not told Witt she was pregnant with his child but believed that she and her skittish lover/co-worker were on the verge of a “tentative commitment.”

Now Witt has been spotted working as a cowboy on a “foster ranch” in Texas that might be involved with an international baby-smuggling ring - and the FBI has come to the “startling conclusion” that he has amnesia. Carley’s boss wants her to take her baby, Cami, to the ranch and see what’s going on, both with Witt (or Houston Smith as he’s now called) and the baby smuggling.

In her boss’s words: “Before I drag him back here and institutionalize him, I figure you’re the person to try to help him regain his memory…you being a psychologist and in love with him and all.” No doubt because she’d be so objective and all.

Carley (a Ph.D. in child psychology.) researches amnesia by downloading “every scrap of information from the Internet” and calling one of her former professors. Later she also consults a “top neuropsychologist.” This expert theorizes over the phone that Houston has endured some horrific trauma (“For the condition to continue for a period of eighteen months would, by definition, mean the person had immersed himself in a drastic, multiple-personality disorder that would take literally years of intense therapy to conquer.”). Or maybe experienced a blow to the head, “bruising the cerebral cortex and causing problems with memory retrieval.”

With no physical or psychological examination, “Carley figured that once Houston Smith trusted her, getting his memory back might come along naturally with the familiarity between them.” Would that be the kind of familiarity that cures multiple personality disorder or the kind that heals a bruised cerebral cortex?

Carley is as unprofessional an agent as she is a psychologist. During the six-hour drive to the foster ranch, she “nearly drove herself and Cami off the road remembering his gentle caresses and his seductive kisses.” Her first contact with Witt/Houston (who doesn’t remember her) “brought stunning images crashing in on Carley.” Her knees give out, her head swims and “a fierce craving to draw them both into the inner fire nearly brought her to her knees for the second time.”

Never mind amnesia, I’m surprised Witt didn’t ask to be buried in the witness protection program to escape this over-emotional drama queen.

Did I mention why Witt was so hard to find, in spite of the FBI’s non-stop efforts? The foster ranch folks, after finding him nearly dead by the side of the road and concluding he was a drug runner, took him in, healed his gunshot wounds, gave him a name and even provided “phony paperwork for his new identity.” When Carley shows up, however, they immediately realize that Witt/Houston is Cami’s father because of the startling resemblance (information that should have been shared with whoever did the cover illustration).

Naturally, even though Witt/Houston doesn’t recognize Carley, “her nearness caused his flesh to jump, and he had a nearly uncontrollable urge to drag her against his chest and smother her with kisses.”

And herein lies the book’s other big problem. Both hero and heroine begin the story in a frenzy of sexual frustration, wanting to rip each other’s clothes off at every glance and touch. This means that there is no build in sexual tension, just endlessly repeated descriptions of their pent-up urges. I’ve noticed that more than one author confuses unbridled lust for proof that the characters are deeply in love. In fact, it trivializes their feelings when raging hormones drive the characters. To be romantic, the relationship has to be about more than the drive to get naked.

Ultimately, by the time the last element of this over-the-top plot has been tied up and the last word of overblown dialogue has been spoken, I was just glad it was over.

--Judi McKee

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