Hard Lovin' Man

That McCloud Woman

 
In Name Only by Peggy Moreland
(Silh. Desire #1313, $3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-661-76313-1
**
In Name Only is the second book in Peggy Moreland’s Texas Groom series. Not having read Ride a Wild Heart, the first book in the series, it’s difficult to tell if this is a representative sampling. It left this reviewer largely disappointed and disinclined to read the rest of the books.

Troy Jacobs is a rodeo steer wrestler who’s had a run of slightly bad luck the last three months. Although disappointed, Troy isn’t in financial trouble due to his recent losses. Troy has just lost another rodeo and is on his way into a local diner when two fellow steer wrestlers spot him on their way out the door and offer to buy his horse to help him out. Troy takes their good-natured ribbing and then heads to a table for dinner. He notices a pretty woman watching him, but doesn’t think much about it until she bravely approaches him once he’s finished his meal.

Shelby Cannon is the youngest of two daughters born to a small town preacher. She’s also unwed, pregnant, and scared to face her father and his condemnation. Shelby is sitting in the diner desperate for an answer to her problem. That’s when the answer to her problem literally walks in the front door.

Shelby overhears enough of the conversation between this stranger and two other men to think that the stranger might be in somewhat of a financial fix. Because of this, Shelby feels the stranger may be more agreeable to an arrangement that could help them both. After approaching the stranger, Shelby spells out her plan. In return for Troy marrying Shelby and giving her unborn child a name, she offers to give him $5,000. Once the child is born, Shelby explains, they will divorce, and of course he won’t need to be responsible for them in the meantime.

Such an offer baffles Troy and brings forth all of his protective instincts. He had never planned on marrying, so what harm could it do to temporarily allow this woman the protection of his name? Maybe his luck is changing for the better.

Marrying a stranger for the protection of his name is the biggest problem with the story. Who in their right mind drops what they’re doing and goes off to Vegas with a stranger they met only hours ago just because they look fragile and in need of the assistance? This is especially true for Troy, a self-proclaimed loner with deep-seeded guilt over his mother’s death and emotional scars from the subsequent physical abuse at his grandfather’s hands when he was a child.

From the beginning, Troy feels he would never be good enough to marry Shelby for "real." If that’s truly how he felt, why disregard his insecurities to give Shelby a "pretend" marriage? In fact, they’re married not once, but twice. The first time in a quickie Vegas wedding and the second in Shelby’s father’s church. That seems like a real, solid marriage to me. If Troy truly wanted to protect Shelby, why not just offer to be with her as moral support when she told her father the truth?

That’s not to say that I didn’t like Troy’s character. On the contrary, I thought his complexity gave Troy a vulnerability that made him more appealing. Thus, he appeared gruff and firm to most people, but was actually compassionate enough to qualify him as a "knight in shining armor." This was evidenced by his hasty response to Shelby’s plea for help and the loving care he shows his grandmother with Alzheimer’s whom he occasionally visits in a nursing home.

Shelby is such a weak character that it is difficult to even dredge up sympathy and compassion on her behalf. It seemed that there wouldn’t have been a problem had she explained the situation to her father. One would think that a twenty two-year-old woman is capable of acting like an adult by accepting her responsibility, which includes confronting her father with the truth. However, Shelby only seemed capable of crying throughout most of the story, which is irritating to say the least.

Too many of the secondary characters are distracting to the story. One scene in particular involves Troy fist fighting with another rodeo cowboy with whom he’s had a previous history. This subplot seemed to be written as an introduction to the possible recurrence of that character later in the story, but this subplot was left dangling. The same could be said for Shelby’s older sister. We know the sister disgraced Shelby’s family by running off and getting married behind her father’s back, which sort of explains Shelby’s father’s overprotectiveness. However, much was left unsaid about the sister’s relationship with her father.

Troy’s complexity and compassion is appealing, but Shelby’s constant crying is not. With a weak plot and even weaker supporting characters, In Name Only offers little incentive to continue Peggy Moreland’s Texas Grooms series.

--Kristy Hales


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