That Man Matthews by Ann Evans
(Harl. Super. #957, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70957-9
***
William “Cody” Matthews has his hands full. His twelve-year-old daughter is turning into a hellion. It’s not like he doesn’t have enough to worry about already - his daughter Sarah’s maternal grandfather is threatening to sue him for custody of the child and he’s fighting to close a deal that will make him rich enough to counter that threat. So when his father tells him he needs an expert to figure out what is making Sarah into a little devil, he doesn’t want to hear it. He really doesn’t want to hear it when he meets the expert - Joan Paxton. Not only is she starchy and annoying, but she reminds him much too much of Sarah’s mother.

Joan is finishing up a disappointing school year. She loves teaching but the headmaster of the private school she works in has been making passes at her. Her fiancé doesn’t seem to understand or care. Joan does and decides to do something about both situations. She ends up with no fiancé and no job for the upcoming year. Meanwhile Cody insults her one week - only to come back the next admitting that perhaps he could use help when Sarah’s last stunt ends her in the emergency room. Joan is aggravated but intrigued. She’s sure she can help, she’s free to do so, and so, off she goes to Texas to see what she can do.

Sarah is a real person in this story, with just as many problems and emotions as the hero and heroine. She’s angry at her often absent father, terrified that her grandfather is going to take her away to live with him (even though Cody is sure she doesn’t know about this plan) and not sure what to do about all of the things that are tearing her old life apart.

The sparks that initially fly between Cody and Joan are just as strong as the sparks that fly between Cody and Sarah, even if they are for different reasons. Gradually, of course, Joan is able to help the tensions in the household because the father and daughter do love each other . . . and because Joan and Cody come to care for each other as well. Interestingly, no one here comes across as the bad guy. Even Sarah’s grandfather has his human side.

I liked this story more than I thought I would since, much as I love Texas, I now start off any book set in the state with a groan. All the characters are strong and believable and they made me care about them. The catch is that although the sexual tension between Joan and Cody starts off promisingly, the story soon wanders off into Sarah’s problems and Joan’s work to solve them. Joan and Cody’s story never seems to get back to where it started.

I was interested in Sarah and the custody battle that looms and the secret Cody keeps, but all of this eventually gets in the way of the romance. In short, I liked what was written but I would have liked more attention to be given to Cody and Joan.

--Irene Williams


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