Simply Love by Catherine Anderson
Avon, $5.99, PG-13, ISBN: 0-380-79102-1
****
Catherine Anderson's recent books have moved away from the traditional western historical romance and have dealt much more with character development, and especially with the redemptive power of love. In Annie's Song, the deaf young woman reached out and touched the heart of the cold, withdrawn rancher and showed him how beautiful the world could be.

The story of Simply Love is much the same, except that the innocence of the heroine is more profound and the hero is much more in need of saving. That Anderson succeeds in convincing the reader that love can indeed transform even the most lost soul is a testament to her ability as a storyteller.

Luke Taggart is the richest man in Black Jack, Colorado. The son of a whore, raised in a brothel, exploited by the mother who should have cared for him, he has been on his own since the age of thirteen. He parlayed a rich gold strike into a mining empire and now, at thirty, is a man of power and influence. He is also a thoughtless hedonist who has experienced every imaginable pleasure and has become jaded and bored.

In the first chapter, we meet him in a brothel, where he turns in disgust from the whore who had just pleasured him. Somehow, the promise of purchased sex which had always satisfied him in the past has come to seem tawdry. But in the prologue, we have already gotten a hint that there is more to Taggart than meets the eye. For Cassandra Zerek discovers him secretly making a large donation for the orphanage in the church poor box. And we know that Cassandra respects the man because he treats his employees in the mine fairly and pays them better than any other owner in the territory.

Cassandra was in the church that day because she volunteers most of her spare time to the church and the orphanage. As soon as her youngest brother is older, she plans to become a nun. This has been her goal since childhood. Despite being raised in mining camps, Cassandra's innocence and faith in her fellow man has been preserved by her devoted father and older brother.

Luke is struck by Cassandra's beauty and her difference from the other women he has known. He decides that the solution to his feeling of anomie is to make her his mistress, a permanent fixture in his life. But when he approaches her father, he is told in no uncertain terms that Cassandra is not for sale and that if he is truly interested, he should think in terms of courtship.

But Luke is used to getting what he wants on his own terms and he arranges for Cassandra's father and brother to be arrested for claim- jumping. With her protectors in jail, Luke offers Cassandra a position that will allow her to support her little brother, her dog, and herself -- that of "paid companion." He induces her to sign a contract that will place her in his power for a year. Cassandra, believing that Luke has come to her rescue, thinks it is sad that someone as nice as Luke has to pay for companionship. She has no idea what his intentions really are.

Luke's attempts to explain to Cassandra what he really has in mind are actually very humorous. Her absolute innocence confounds him and engenders in him growing feelings of shame for what he has done. When he explains that he expects her to perform wifely duties, she strips the wax from his staircase. When he speaks of intimacy, she designs games that will enable them to share their thoughts and feelings. And when he introduces her to sexual pleasure, she tells him she loves him. Well, what's a man to do? He marries her, of course, but lives in dread of her discovering what he really did and what his intentions really were.

If there is a problem with Simply Love, it is accepting that Cassandra could possibly be as innocent as she is presented. Yet, Anderson is careful to create a background for the girl that makes her attitudes comprehensible. An even more impressive achievement is the author's ability to make you truly care about Luke and to root for him despite his despicable behavior. Anderson uncovers the man behind the facade and it becomes obvious that there is much good in his character. Thus his redemption becomes completely believable.

Simply Love will be popular with those readers who made Annie's Song and Keegan's Lady best sellers. Catherine Anderson is a gifted storyteller who creates memorable characters and who makes the reader care about them. And she can convince even the most cynical that simply love can change one's life.

--Jean Mason


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