Here With Me by Beverly Long
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-21287-4
While the romance genre is currently being overrun by vampires, werewolves, shape shifters and wood sprits, one facet of the paranormal sub genre has remained relatively quiet – the time travel. Long is unique, as not only is she writing time travel, she’s incorporating the Old West, another sub genre that’s been quiet of late. This sequel to her debut novel, Stay With Me, is pleasant enough fare, but suffers from some improbable behavior on the part of the heroine.

Melody Song is in a bind. She’s single, five months pregnant and working as a waitress. To make matters worse, she lied to her grandmother. Granny is a bit of a traditionalist, and factoring in her own past, doesn’t believe much in having children before marriage. So Melody, stupidly, tells her that she is married – to a man nobody in her family has met. They haven’t met him, because he doesn’t exist.

George Tyler wakes up on a deserted beach outside of Los Angeles feeling like something the cat coughed up. He has just traveled through time, taking the place of Sarah Tremont (the woman who traveled back to 1888 Wyoming in the first novel, Stay With Me). Sarah left modern day L.A. with some unfinished business, and George promised her he’d take care of it. Then he sees a wave crashing on the beach and someone getting dragged into the ocean.

That someone is Melody, and when he pulls her out of the water he’s shocked to see she’s pregnant. Melody isn’t suffering from shock, because even though she almost drowns, she doesn’t mention going to the hospital to make sure Junior is OK. Anyway, she immediately launches into an improbable conversation with George, telling her how she needs to find a husband, how the baby’s father left and how her best friend Sarah drowned at the beach. She also tells him that the unfinished business Sarah left behind has been taken care of. All this history telling and we’re not even out of the first chapter yet. People don’t tell their shrinks this much.

Well now George is really at a loss. What he came to the future for in the first place has been dealt with. But here is Melody, a damsel in distress and George decides to help her out by playing her husband. She needs to return to her family’s Napa Valley vineyard. The beloved grandmother she lied to has cancer, and is anxious to meet Melody’s new husband.

Here With Me gets off to a rocky start and never quite recovers. I had a hard time believing that Melody, a former social worker used to seeing the worst our society has to offer, would launch into her life story and her problems with a complete stranger – even if he did save her life. L.A. isn’t exactly Mayberry. Although it’s obvious that naïve people can live anywhere, since by Chapter Two Melody agrees to allow George to play her husband. That means sharing a bedroom once they arrive at her Grandmother’s Napa Valley home. Sure George seems like a nice guy, but that’s what they said about Ted Bundy.

The rest of the story unfolds in Napa Valley, where Melody’s various relatives are behaving strangely. There’s also a lot of stuff about wine making, that’s interesting to read about but does occasionally come close to “info-dumping.” Melody appears to be in danger, so not only does George need to play hubby, he also needs to protect his wife.

The time travel aspect is actually one of the more memorable parts of this story. Long comes up with a nice premise, and the conclusion, while a bit hastily written, is handled well. It also doesn’t hurt that George is a genuinely nice guy. He’s still lugging around some guilt about the death of his first wife, and he’s an honorable guy who wants to do right by Melody – even if she’s making it hard on him by practically seducing him out of his pants.

All in all, Here With Me is a pleasant read with some problems. For readers who can overlook Melody’s complete trust in a total stranger (in Los Angeles!), and the fact that she feels the need to lie to a grandmother who dotes on her, then Long’s latest may fill a need for hungry time travel fans.

--Wendy Crutcher

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