The Love of a Cowboy

The Love of a Lawman

The Love of a Stranger

Sweet Water by Anna Jeffrey
(Signet Eclipse, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-21737-3
The online auction site E-bay has officially become overexposed. Yes, it's taken over TV with those annoying commercials and its movie cameos, but now it's invaded the romance novel. And sadly, what starts as a great premise quickly deteriorates into an oh-too-trite tale.

Terry Ledger has big plans for Agua Dolce, the tiny West Texas town he wins on Ebay. First off, he needs to demolish half the town and build a convenience store and housing subdivision. It shouldn't be too hard to take over a town that only has ten residences. After all, how much resistance can there be?

Obviously Terry wasn't planning on Marisa Rutherford. As unofficial town mayor, Marisa is cajoled by the concerned citizens into taking up their cause with the developer. Not her cause, even though her restaurant/flea market will be destroyed and her home ripped out from under her, but their cause, because that's just the type of girl she is. Marissa's a fixer, a nurturer.

Although Terry and Marisa clash over the future of Agua Dolce, they find they do agree on one thing: their mutual attraction. Set amidst the backdrop of a town full of misfits, the two struggle to control their hormones and pursue their very different agenda.

First of all, I should warn you: this isn't my type of story. I tend to gravitate toward romantic comedies and this story? Definitely not a comedy. Drama is the key word in Sweet Water - from Marisa's ailing mother to a town about to uprooted, there's nothing lighthearted about life in Agua Dolce.

The least light-hearted element of Sweet Water is the heroine. Marissa is a dour woman whom I can't imagine ever truly having fun. She has a tendency to harshly judge the females in her life. Everyone's a "loser" or "trashy" compared to saint Marisa. It's a characterization that gets old quickly and makes the reader wonder why anyone would fall in love with such a sour being. Sure, Marissa's life is hard and she's an admirable character to have returned home to care for her Alzheimer's stricken mother, but she finds no joy in life outside of men.

As for Terry, he's actually a great character and one of the saving graces of the story (the colorful townsfolk being the other). He's a complex character, wanting to create his vision, but at the same time mindful of the people whom he is uprooting. You truly believe he's thought this venture out and thinks it will be the best for everyone and not just a get richer quick scheme. His concern for Marisa, while at times a bit chauvinistic is heartfelt and begins even before he's trying to get in her pants. He's not just trying to score; he really cares about her without even knowing her. Kind, caring, wealthy, creative and written to look like Mel Gibson, he's every girl's dream and a solid character.

Despite my obvious dislike for the heroine, I do actually like the love story between the two. Marisa is a bit of martyr if left to her own devices and Terry makes her martyrdom unnecessary. In his own way, Terry is more of a fixer than Marisa; he just doesn't have to tell the world about it. It's this strong character and protective nature that bring out the best in Marisa and make their relationship believable. He lightens her up, while she keeps him in touch with the part of the world that isn't a multi-millionaire. It seems to work for them.

While I wouldn't recommend this story for a light-hearted Sunday afternoon, it has a solid plot and some interesting background characters. Fans of serious romance just might find themselves charmed by a little Texas town and a contemporary Cinderella story.

--Amanda Waters

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