Jake's Angel by Nicole Foster
(Harl Hist. #522, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29122-1
If you can get past the fact that Harlequin has chosen to use cover art that depicts a gangly hero who looks to be about fifteen and a heroine who looks far too delicate and fragile to be the tough widowed mother Foster has penned, you'll find a good story inside.

In 1874, rough-and-tumble Texas Ranger Jake Coulter is hot on the trail of Jerico Grey, a notorious bank robber and murderer. He follows Grey from Texas to New Mexico where it's rumored that the outlaw has buried his stolen booty. Jake gets shot in the process and is losing lots of blood fast, so he limps his way into the nearest community of Whispering Creek in the hopes of finding a doctor. What Jake gets instead is the person known as the town witch, a sturdy, independent woman named Isabel whose healing hands work wonders on his ailment and whose smile and goodness do impossible things to his soul...

Isabel Bradshaw has had nothing but bad luck in love. First there was Jerico Grey, her childhood amour who grew up to become an infamous outlaw. Next there was her now deceased husband Douglas, a man who left her and her two stepsons behind to fend for themselves while he went out to the mining camps, the lure of gold waiting to be found more tempting to him than family life.

And now she finds herself falling for Jake Coulter, a Texas Ranger who has made his intentions clear to Isabel: no matter what, once his leg has mended, he's leaving Whispering Creek and not looking back. Can Isabel change his mind? Given her past history, should she even try? One things clear to Isabel, however, and that is the fact that Jake Coulter makes her feel things she hadn't thought possible...

The only major angst I have with Jake's Angel is that the decision of whether or not Jake will stay in Whispering Creek is carried out all the way to the end of the book. As a fan of novels that determine the relationship between the protagonists early on and use the rest of the book to cement it, carrying out what readers know will come to pass anyway (this is a romance after all) disgruntled me rather than intrigued me.

That issue aside, Jake's Angel is well written. The hero and heroine are both characters we can empathize with and care about. Their relationship develops nicely, despite the fact that Jake is dead set against keeping roots in any one place clear up until the last few pages.

The best aspect of Jake's Angel is the nicely penned dialogue. It flows well and is often times humorous. Following is a scene during which Isabel is attending to Jake's gunshot wound; it's an exchange that pretty much sets the tone for the entire book:

"You're starting to annoy me, woman."
"And I've only just begun. I'm sure you'll loathe me by the time I'm finished."
"It won't take that long."

Jake’s Angel is an enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon.

--Tina Engler

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