has also reviewed:

Cassidy's Courtship

A Sacred Trust

His Tender Touch
by Sharon Mignerey
(Silh. Int. Mom. #935, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07935-4
Sharon Mignerey's book, Cassidy's Courtship, exploded on the category romance scene last year. Such excitement and enthusiasm are normally reserved for after-Christmas half price sales. While His Tender Touch is a good read, it doesn't generate the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm as did its predecessor. It's as though Cassidy's Courtship touched a special place in all of us that His Tender Touch doesn't quite reach.

Is Gray Murdoch hallucinating? Seeing ghosts? When he sees an Indian woman trying to escape men on horseback and tries to help her, but touches nothing, has he seen the ghost of Puma's Lair? When the riders thunder past as though he's not even there and then disappear, he wonders what's going on?

Audrey Sussman's boss is an absentee owner of Puma's Lair, a guest ranch located in New Mexico. He suspects that all is not right, and has pulled Audrey off another job to perform an immediate audit. Needless to say, she's not welcomed with open arms. When only Gray Murdoch is on hand to meet her and is so far from welcoming as to warn her not to trust anybody, she wonders what's going on?

Audrey is more than unwelcome. She's being threatened. Her rental car has been sabotaged, she's hearing voices, and it's spooking her. What is odd is that she's not finding anything amiss with the books. When she takes Gray's advice to leave, she finds that a bridge is out. Waiting a bit to regain her wits after seeing the bridge collapse right in front of her, she doesn't know that her car is leaking carbon monoxide. When Gray finds her, barely coherent, he knows that he's got to break one of his hard and fast rules and help this young woman.

Gray, a cop on leave of absence, has excessive emotional baggage. His father died in prison, there because he abused his wife. Gray's two older brothers are also guilty of spousal abuse. Gray has promised himself that he'll never allow himself to get close to anyone. Even though he's attracted to Audrey, he won't let himself care for this appealing, gentle woman.

His Tender Touch is a story with many layers. The relationship, of paramount importance to romance readers, is satisfying. Audrey, almost thirty, has yet to enter into a relationship. She knows intuitively that Gray is special, but also knows that he's worth fighting for. Even though Gray has advised her not to trust anyone, she knows he's the right man. A scene where she tries to show Gray, goading him into anger to prove that he's not a violent man, is especially poignant.

When the attacks on Audrey escalate and she and Gray must escape, the story moves to another level. While they are on foot, their nemesis, with a jeep and a high-powered rifle, is determined to get rid of them. When Audrey recognizes the killer, whose motives are suddenly clear, she knows that the killer will stop at nothing. Now she must trust Gray with more than her heart; she must trust him with her life. As these two attempt to find safety, the suspense builds as they use their wits to escape.

Another layer is that of the Indian woman, who appears to both Gray and Audrey. Her part becomes increasingly important as we realize that she has a message that's very important, one that's been decades in the telling.

The only thing that didn't ring true was how Gray and Audrey dealt with the villain. They know who he is; he's been shooting at them and has killed an employee at Puma's Lair. Yet when they reach safety, they don't mention their near-death experience to the police, there to investigate what they think is a suicide. Gray is a cop, but do the local police even listen to him? No. Another scene has the villain surprising Audrey, forcing her to come with him. Where's Gray? Out rounding up horses. Come on, guys. Show a little common sense here.

His Tender Touch is right on target with the relationship, but misses the mark in dealing with the bad guy. Still, the relationship is strong enough to offset the other weak points, making this a satisfying read.

--Linda Mowery

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