The Cowboy's Ideal Wife
by Victoria Pade
(Silh. Special Ed. #1185, 4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24185-2
About thirty pages from the end, The Cowboy's Ideal Wife dropped from a recommended four-heart rating to an acceptable three-heart rating. Why? Predictability. I kept hoping that the plot wouldn't take the well-traveled roads, but no such luck. The scenery suddenly became just a little too familiar. There hadn't been much conflict, and I instinctively knew it was time for some. So I'll just whine and bemoan the fact that such a good story had to have such a disappointing, overly-used plot premise near the ending. I can't even tell you what happens. That would constitute a major spoiler. Just know that if you're an experienced romance reader, events leading up to the ending will be very, very recognizable.

Victoria Pade has given us some great characters in Della Dennehy and Yance Culhane. Della has returned to Elk Creek, Wyoming after a year's absence. She and her four kids went to Arizona to live with her parents while they adjusted to the death of her husband. Now they're back in their family home, trying to cope with his loss.

Yance Culhane had been smitten with Della way back in the eighth grade. He was too slow staking a claim. Bucky Dennehy moved to town, saw Della, fell in love and Yance backed off. With Della back, Yance realizes that he still cares for this woman. Not only does Yance care for her, he empathizes completely. Three years earlier his wife and son had died. Yance knows the grief, despair and ultimate acceptance that Della must experience.

Although it comes slowly, Yance realizes that he's hibernated long enough. He's ready to begin living. Della and her family have appeared at the opportune time. He wants to help. More, he needs to help. Offering his services gladly, he begins to repair things and in doing so, spends time with the kids and Della. Unwittingly, he is making a place for himself in this family.

A charming scene involves taking nine-year-old Ashley to her birthday dinner, a tradition begun by her father. When Yance realizes that Ashley is despondent, both over the loss of her dad and the abrupt end of a wonderful tradition, he offers to take Ashley. Yance has planned the dinner with such care that candles are on the restaurant table. He knows that he's planned a successful dinner when the little girl gives her permission for Yance to take Della to dinner, too.

Della's guilt for most of the book is understandable. She's loved the same man since eighth grade. Allowing a new man into her life, into her heart, is a frightening proposition. We're permitted to watch Yance's gentle, yet effective efforts to instill himself into this family, a family that he needs and who also needs him. Della frequently gets good advice from her sister Kansas, a character that I think has probably been a heroine herself in Pade's A Ranching Family series.

The Cowboy's Ideal Wife is a good story, comfortable and with glimpses of realistic people with honest emotions. Forgive me while I whine one more time, "Why did the final conflict have to be so . . . ordinary?"

--Linda Mowery

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