A Man to Trust by Justine Davis
(Silhouette Intimate Moments #805, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-07805-6
Trinity Street West miniseries
****
This is one of the strongest category efforts I've read by an author who writes consistently well. A Man to Trust is the third entry in the Trinity Street West miniseries that focuses on the lives and loves of a dedicated group of policemen stationed in a California precinct. Detective Cruz Gregerson has always taken a one week vacation at the Oak Tree Inn while his ten year old daughter, Sam, was at summer camp. He needed the peace of mind that the old house and its innkeeper, Kelsey Hall, provided. But this year he receives a strange phone call in the middle of the night -- Kelsey informs him that she must cancel his reservation because of a water leak.

Cruz is suspicious -- there's more going on than Kelsey will admit. So he decides to drive to the inn anyway and make sure that the quiet, kind innkeeper is safe and sound. When he gets there he finds no water leak and only a lame excuse from Kelsey. Instead of pushing him away, she is now acting overly solicitous, spending more time with him than usual. She's got to be hiding something, but what is it? And why is Cruz suddenly noticing how much he is attracted to her?

Kelsey Hall learned long ago, the hard way, not to trust cops. As much as she likes Cruz, she can't let him find out what is going on at the Oak Tree. So she smothers him with kindness to prevent him from looking around too carefully. But she hasn't counted on the fact that she's suddenly very attracted to him, or that she has this overwhelming urge to tell him everything and trust him with the truth.

The strength of this novel is the very real and human face that Davis puts on the law enforcement profession. Her background as a cop has lent authenticity to her novels before, but this time it seems more personal, as she delves into the terrible responsibility that profession has to uphold the laws, even when the laws don't always make sense. As Cruz says, "Sometimes you wish you could do more, but the laws won't let you. Sometimes you wish you didn't have to do something, but the laws won't let you not do it." As Kelsey falls in love with Cruz, she learns that policemen are, "people who aren't paid nearly enough to do what others didn't want to, risking their lives so that others don't have to, trying to keep the peace so that others can go about their lives without thinking about such things as crime and death and ugliness." Just in case you think Davis has a blind respect for the profession, her portrayal of the sleazy Lieutenant Robards is a clear message that not all policemen honor their badges.

The love story between Cruz and Kelsey builds slowly but steadily with a little less fire than some of Davis' previous novels. There is a lot of coming to terms with painful pasts, and a bit of comic relief provided by Samantha's menagerie of homeless pets, including a snake named Slither, who strikes fear into Cruz' otherwise intrepid heart.

Within the confines of a category's short length and rigid structure, Justine Davis has crafted a remarkably thoughtful, subtle story. Bravo for her, and here's hoping the remaining books in the series are as strong.

Here's a quibble with the cover art -- more than once, Kelsey is described as being "generously curvaceous," with a real woman's body that is not model-slender. So guess how she is portrayed on the cover? Come on, Silhouette, if we can read about - and root for - a less-than-perfect heroine, you can draw one on your cover, too.

--Susan Scribner


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