"Heart of the West"

Best Man in Wyoming
by Margot Dalton
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-82596-X
Well, I think I have an answer to one of the questions that I have had about how series like “Heart of the West” operate. I have always wondered exactly how much of the story is the author’s and how much comes from the series’ editors. Margot Dalton in her introduction provides a partial answer. Obviously, she was told who her heroine and hero would be; how she got them together was her job. And she did a very nice job indeed.

Throughout all eleven preceding books, we have met Lindsay Duncan and Rex Trowbridge. She is the director of the Lost Springs Ranch for Boys who thought up the idea for the bachelor auction; he is closely associated with the Ranch, a member of the Board of Directors. I suppose I always figured the two would end up together; I just didn’t know how.

As this final installment begins, Rex, incredibly dashing in a tuxedo, is about to be auctioned off. But he’s not worried. He’s made a deal with Lindsay. She needed him to participate, but he’d do so only if she agreed to “buy” him. Of course, he’d donate whatever it cost her to the ranch. And buy Rex Lindsay does. He offers to go through with the bargain and take her on a romantic weekend, but Lindsay refuses.

Rex and Lindsay were best friends as teenagers and shared their first kiss. But although they have remained friendly, their lives have gone in very different directions. Lindsay has remained on the ranch while Rex went off to college and law school and returned to Wyoming where he has become a partner in one of the state’s leading law firms. He has all the signs of success: a Cadillac (he eschews the current craze for SUVs; he’s already been a cowboy and doesn’t need to look like one), a luxurious apartment furnished in leather and chrome, and as many women as he wants to bother with. Lindsay feels that her old friend has changed almost beyond recognition, although he is very supportive of the ranch.

Rex’s attitude seems to have changed somehow since the auction; he seems to want to get closer. But Lindsay has a secret that has led her to avoid intimacy. Then, her hand is forced. Two reporters arrive and wonder just when Lindsay and Rex are going to fulfill the terms of the auction. Or was her “buying” Rex merely a ploy to ratchet up the bidding? Fearful that the ranch’s reputation will be harmed, she informs the reporters that she and Rex are going on a week’s camping trip with some of the boys. Then she has to inform Rex what’s in store for him.

Rex is only too happy with the idea, much to Lindsay’s surprise. But neither knows exactly how exciting and dangerous this trip is going to be.

I liked almost everything about this book. I liked seeing two old friends move from friendship to love. I liked watching Rex reexamine his value system and find it wanting. I liked the portrayal of the boys. I liked the secondary romance of Lindsay’s Uncle Sam and Gwen McCabe. I suppose I least liked Lindsay’s secret; her behavior just didn’t seem in character.

Still, Best Man in Wyoming was a fine finale for a series I have mostly enjoyed very much. I wonder what Harlequin will come up with next to feed my series-itis.

--Jean Mason

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