A Cowboy's Heart

The Outlaw's Bride

Trouble in Paradise

Husband Material by Liz Ireland
(Zebra, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7115-9
Fast paced and light-hearted, this is a book about a family that reads like the author actually belongs to one. Granted, they may be a little more eccentric and charming than your family - this is a comedy, after all - but all the relationships ring true and the entire cast is wonderfully three-dimensional.

Recently divorced from an unfaithful ne’er-do-well, Kellie Sumners is struggling to make a normal life after years of insecurity caused by her husband’s gambling problem. She has just opened a new business, a copy shop, and she’s worried about her kids, Tina, nine, and Trevor, almost eleven. Tina is a tense little fuss-budget and her brother is turning into a mini rebel without a cause.

Trying to retain some normality in her kids’ lives in spite of all the upheavals, Kellie has scraped together the money to send them to a summer day camp. The story opens as she is summoned to apprehend Trevor who has been relieving his fellow campers of their spare cash - by gambling with them.

Pulling out of the parking lot, Kellie is rammed by Riley Lombard, leaving her ancient Toyota badly damaged. Before Riley rushes off he assures her that the damages will be taken care of.

To her astonishment, the next morning there’s a brand new Lexus SUV in her driveway. Her kids are thrilled, but Kellie, albeit with several pangs of regret, knows she must return the extravagant car. Riley then finds more creative and subtle ways to help because he feels a sense of responsibility. He also notices uneasily that he seems to be getting involved with Kellie and her family. He’s very wealthy, and buying them things was supposed to ease his conscience - from a distance.

Although he owns a very successful investment counseling business, Riley has lived almost reclusively since his beloved wife and daughter were killed in a highway crash three years earlier. He doesn’t want Kellie and her brood to drag him from his emotional cocoon, but he’s in the thick of it before he knows it.

Both are carrying a lot of baggage and neither is ready for a relationship, but they can’t seem to stay away from each other so they decide they’ll just be friends and ignore the growing attraction.

With a breezy, unaffected style, humor that arises naturally from the characters’ chaotic lives, and personalities that jump off the page, this book hooked me early. There are a few over-the-top moments, but by the time I got to them I already liked everybody so much I was feeling too good to care.

As a single mother with very limited financial resources, Kellie has a sense of humor in spite of the fact that she sometimes feels overwhelmed, under appreciated, and inadequate. She also takes great satisfaction in the way she’s reclaimed her life since her husband left. She’s fought too hard for her pride to allow Riley to simply throw money at her problems and walk away. Her energy vibrates off the page.

The fact that it does explains why Riley is a bit shell-shocked and also why he can’t help responding to her vitality. He’s a lovely beta hero for the most part - thoughtful, sensitive to her sensitivities once he figures out what they are, good to her kids, and a “fixer” who can’t keep his hands off a problem. I understood his reluctance to get involved, but he just disappeared for a bit near the end of the book and I had the feeling it was because he didn’t have anything new to say.

Tina and Trevor are absolutely believable, and part of the reason they’re so vivid is that they’re real kids with real problems and real feelings and not a precocious little morality chorus. We learn the nuances of their personalities by watching how they behave in a variety of situations, and both have lively and vital roles in the unfolding of the story.

Frankly, it’s difficult to synopsize because there’s so much going on, but it all makes entertaining sense in context. If you’re in the mood for a fast, fun read, this is a good one.

--Judi McKee

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