The Last Man in Town

Marry Me

The Most Wanted Bachelor

A Wedding Story

A Wanted Man by Susan Kay Law
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-052519-3
No one knows better than romance readers that the difference between love and indifference can be a matter of personal taste. Susan Kay Law, a deservedly well-liked author of several highly rated books, does many things right with this story. Unfortunately, I personally found the pace so slow that it never grabbed my attention.

Sam Duncan needs to infiltrate the Silver Spur ranch of millionaire Haw Crocker, where his best and only friend disappeared. When Sam first investigated, he was beaten within an inch of his life and left to crawl to the nearest Wyoming town.

Discovering that Laura Hamilton, the “renowned panorama painter” and daughter of one of Crocker’s business partners is going to visit the ranch, Sam sees an opportunity and sets out to connect with Miss Hamilton.

Laura Hamilton is literally having the adventure of a lifetime. Confined to her home, first by a lengthy illness and then by over-protective parents, she’s on a cross-country train trip. She is making the observations and sketches she needs to create her next large project – a panorama celebrating the first fifteen years of the trans-continental railroad – and thrilling to her first taste of freedom and real life.

At least, as ‘real’ as life gets when one is traveling with a companion and two bodyguards in luxurious private rail cars.

In one of Laura’s forays into the public coaches, her attention is caught by a man who looks as though he might be an outlaw. This impression is dispelled when the man (Sam) and one of her own bodyguards foil an attempt to rob the train. Sam then tells Laura that he has been hired by her father to help protect her. No use in telegraphing her father to see if it’s true, sighs Laura, it’s exactly the sort of thing he would do.

Thus, Sam is able to join Laura’s group for a time. Laura’s companion is less credulous, however, and when his story is revealed as a ruse he kidnaps Laura and tells her his true mission. Laura agrees to help him and the two set off, without any of her chaperones, for the Silver Spur ranch.

This book has a lot going for it. The characterizations of Sam and Laura, while perhaps not quite as vivid or original as they might have been, were enough to make them likable and sympathetic. Sam’s compelling need to find out what happened to the man who probably saved his life when they were unjustly imprisoned together is entirely understandable. Laura, who quite naturally fought against the cocoon that her parents created for her, comes to realize just how gilded her cage was.

If I have a quibble here, it is that Laura has very sophisticated social and acting skills for someone who was so extremely sheltered and had virtually no social life at all. She is also incredibly robust for a girl who’s scarcely been allowed out of the house for years.

There are generous amounts of historical and scenic color which bring both the era and the characters to life. In addition, there is a cast of nicely-drawn secondary characters, two of whom create a rather poignant little romance of their own. If anything, I would have liked to see more of these two.

This leaves us with the issue of pace. Up until the very final pages, there was simply no sense of urgency, in spite of what you might assume from the synopsis. Part of this might be due to the pace of the romance itself. While I like a slow build, it’s better to feel that something is happening. Both the internal and external journeys were… well, when I was feeling charitable, I described them to myself as leisurely. When my patience wore thin I thought of them as sluggish. There just wasn’t a lot of energy.

What to me was a serious failing might, to other readers, scarcely register on the flaw meter. If you think you’re one of those, then I think you’ll find this a satisfying read. Those like me, with a shorter attention span, may find that this book just can’t hold it.

-- Judi McKee

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