Stay With Me by Beverly Long
(Berkley, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20062-0
***
Here’s something you don’t see everyday – a new time travel western. While not flawless, Stay With Me will certainly be of interest to time travel and western romances fans alike.

Sarah Jane Tremont is a burnt-out social worker living in Los Angeles. She’s just plain tired. For every child she helps, there are a dozen more waiting in line. She made it through her last day of work and is walking along the beach when a storm kicks up. The next thing Sarah knows she’s in John Beckett’s cabin in 1888 Wyoming Territory.

John is flabbergasted to see Sarah on his doorstep. After his brother was killed in a silver mine collapse, the grieving widow hightailed it out of town with the family’s savings. He wants to slam the door in her face, but she’s bleeding and obviously confused. Plus there’s the ultimate question – what the heck is she doing back in town?

Sarah is a bright girl and soon realizes that 1) she’s traveled back in time and 2) she’s the spitting image of John’s witchy sister-in-law. She also realizes that crazy people who go spouting off about time travel in 1888 might not be well received. So lacking options she assumes the role of Sarah Beckett until she can figure out how to get back to present day L.A.

Our Sarah is obviously nothing like Sarah One, so her shift in personality has John confused. Sarah is soon helping his widowed best friend, Fred, by babysitting his three children. She also takes to playing piano in church and even rescues a local saloon girl when a customer attacks her. The Sarah that was married to his brother would certainly never behave in such a fashion.

Stay With Me is one of those books where the secondary romance works better than the primary one. John spends so much time avoiding Sarah and thinking ill of her that it’s hard to believe it when he realizes he’s in love. It’s his animosity towards Sarah One that leads our Sarah to move to town, hence triggering off the more interesting aspects of the story – Sarah’s interaction with the townspeople who knew Sarah One and the secondary romance.

That secondary romance features John’s widowed friend, Fred, and a local saloon girl, Suzanne. There are obvious complications however. Respectable men don’t marry saloon girls – especially when that respectable man has three children and a preacher father-in-law to worry about. Also, Fred was in love with his dead wife, he doesn’t want to be disrespectful to her memory by falling in love again.

While the primary romance is a little lackluster things roll along pretty well until the end when some unpleasantness appears. Sarah has an unfortunate too-stupid-to-live moment and the sex scene finally happens. The too-stupid-to-live moment was likely the author’s way to get John to finally admit that he loves Sarah, so while annoying, it can be understood. The sex scene though was hard to overlook since it landed firmly in Purple Prose Territory. Gems like “you taste rich and sweet and I am a greedy man,” and “your womanly scent fills my bed making me want with an urgency I cannot describe” only reinforce the opinion that heroes should never talk during love scenes.

All that said I found Stay With Me a largely entertaining read. The author writes nice characters, and I especially enjoyed the interaction Sarah had with the wide cast of secondary players. While the road isn’t always entirely smooth, it’s still a nice journey.

--Wendy Crutcher


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