A book to read by a nice fire on a bad day, That Woman in Wyoming eases along from beginning to end without any real surprises. As a result, it will undoubtedly please some readers and frustrate others.
Max Gardner is a bounty hunter. He and his partner are chasing Travis Carmichael, who jumped bail after committing armed robbery. He proves elusive until a former girlfriend confesses that Travis has a sister, who might live in Serenity, Wyoming, and might be named Ronnie.
The partner has planned a sexy vacation with his new wife, so Max goes to Wyoming solo - he’ll just grab Travis when he shows up at the sister’s. Travelling incognito, Max locates the town but can’t find “Ronnie Carmichael.”
He does find an attractive widow named Reagan McKenna. Reagan moved to Serenity three years earlier, following the death of her reckless policeman husband. Reagan has two daughters - Danielle, 14, who’s into clothes and makeup, and Jamie, 13, a quintessential tomboy. Jamie wants desperately to take rock-climbing lessons but, afraid the girl takes after her daredevil father, Reagan won’t consider it.
Unbeknownst to Max, Reagan is Travis’s sister - it says so right on the book’s cover although it’s not mentioned inside until about half way through, when Travis shows up and Max recognizes him. Telling us this in the cover blurb is a fascinating, although perhaps not entirely above-board way to inject suspense into a story that, in itself, has almost none.
The low-key writing style can be engaging; unfortunately it’s punctuated with too many artificial moments that are intended to provide drama. When Reagan quite literally bumps into Max at the city offices where she works, she feels a little surge of interest and awareness. That felt real to me - much better than those unnatural first meetings where mere eye contact brings every erogenous zone to throbbing alert. Unfortunately, the next time she sees him, at a burger joint where she’s eating with her daughters, she is struck absolutely dumb by his mere presence. Must be a cumulative effect.
During a friendly dinner at home with Reagan and the girls, lone wolf Max is inexplicably overwhelmed by the urge to protect this woman and her daughters (just from life, I guess, the brother hasn’t shown up yet). Then they share a kiss, and Max goes away reeling.
“…that kiss had changed everything. It had reached deep into his soul as no kiss ever had. It had stripped away all his walls and masks and left him raw and exposed. He’d been filled with hunger, not just for another kiss, but for something he’d never wanted before - permanence.”
I was confused, so I flipped back. The kiss the reader heard about was sweet and pleasant and not the slightest bit earth shattering. Lips were full and warm and slightly parted, a tongue flicked, and the whole thing reminded Reagan of how safe and comforting a man’s embrace could be. I’d rather have read about the kiss Max got, preferably while it was happening.
Reagan’s family life is written with a lot of authenticity. She finds it difficult to give up protecting her irresponsible brother, whom she raised almost single-handedly. She and her daughters have a realistic love-hate relationship that anyone with teenagers will relate to. Our satisfaction in all of them is lessened, however, when everybody’s problems are resolved with some perfectly reasonable, overly pat psychology.
And Max and Reagan are very reasonable people. Max is a good guy, so he confesses who he is before they make love. She’s hurt, naturally, but eventually forgives him because he’s doing his job and her brother really does need to smarten up. Then, since they’ve figured out they love each other, the entire last three chapters are devoted to whether or not Travis will be brought to justice, or Jamie will be allowed to take rock climbing lessons. Okay, maybe they’re a little too reasonable.
If, like Reagan and Max, you’re looking for Serenity (hey, I held out this long), this book is for you. If you’re looking for action, especially in a story about a bounty hunter, this is not the place.