"Heart of the West" Series:

Husband for Hire

Courting Callie by Lynn Erikson
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-82586-2
OK, I confess. I have a “thing” for those connecting series. First it was “36 Hours.” Then it was “Fortune’s Children.” And now it’s “Heart of the West.” And this one’s going to have twelve installments! Harlequin must love readers like me!

For those of you who didn’t read Susan Wiggs’ excellent launch book, Husband for Hire, this new series centers on a “bachelor auction in the small town of Lightning Creek, Wyoming. The auction is designed to raise funds for the Lost Spring Ranch for Boys, a last chance destination for boys on the road to trouble. The “auctionees” are all alumni of the Ranch, willing to do their bit for the place that helped them make something of themselves.

Callie Thorne is at the auction mostly because the Ranch’s director is her good friend. She’d really rather just write a check and get it over with. Her track record with men isn’t very good and since she spends all her time working with patients at her family’s equine therapy ranch, she doesn’t do much socializing.

Thanks to the machinations of her friend Lindsay, Callie finds herself the winning bidder on Mase LeBow, a rather intimidating detective with the Denver police force. She really has no intention of going on a date with her prize, but when she mentions that she lives on a rather isolated ranch, Mase’s ears perk up.

Mase has a problem. Well, he has a couple of problems and they both concern his young son Joey. Ever since his mother died in an auto accident over a year ago, Joey has been withdrawn and depressed. He’s clingy and scared and not at all the young boy he once was. Mase doesn’t know what to do to bring him out of his shell.

More serious is the fact that Joey may be in danger. Mase is the key witness in a high profile murder case in Denver and he has been warned that if he testifies, Joey will be the murderer’s next victim. Someday Ranch sounds like it might be just the haven Joey needs.

When Mase and Joey visit the ranch, it seems it might be just the ticket in more ways than one. Joey responds almost immediately to the warmth that Callie exudes and to the horses who are the key to helping people with both physical and emotional problems. So Mase arranges for Joey to stay at the ranch. That he also is responding to the infectious warmth that is Callie Thorne is something he doesn’t want to examine too closely.

Erikson has clearly done her homework about equine therapy and her descriptions of the clients Callie and her staff are working with, their methods and their results are heartwarming. I had heard about this kind of therapy before and Erikson uses this both to illuminate Callie’s character and to provide added depth to her story.

Callie is a delightful heroine. She is a dreamer whose hard work and positive outlook make a difference in the lives of those she tries to help. She also makes a difference in Mase’s and Joey’s lives.

Mase is a man who has seen too much evil in his career. He has shut himself off from emotion and resists the feelings that Callie arouses in him. He has to stand back and reevaluate what he wants from life.

The threat to Joey plays a role in their developing relationship and adds excitement to the story. Whether it makes sense that the villain would threaten a police officer’s kid I leave to others to determine.

I definitely enjoyed the second installment of the “Heart of the West” series and will undoubtedly pick up the next one, even though it looks like a “secret baby” book. You’ve got to give those folks at Harlequin credit. They sure know how to suck us readers in.

--Jean Mason

Reviewer's Note: There are two points I would like to make that don't affect the review. First, throughout the book, Callie is described as having golden hair, yet the woman on the cover has dark brown hair. Who goofed here? Secondly, I noted on the frontpiece the rather unusual statement, “Lynn Erikson is acknowledged as the author of this work,” while the copyright is held by Harlequin. Can anybody tell me what is going on here? Is this a new wrinkle in the treatment of authors or is it common practice?

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