Joe's Wife

The Mistaken Widow

The Truth About Toby

The Doctor's Wife by Cheryl St. John
(Harlequin Hist. #481, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29081-0
Cheryl St. John writes emotional, meaty stories -- stories that you can sink you teeth into. Although I liked the start of The Doctor's Wife, I thought the story began to fade toward the finish.

Ellie Parish has known much of the worst in life: poverty, shame, fear and brutality. For the love of her brothers, she's taken a new name and a position as a waitress at a hotel in Newton, Kansas. Ellie hopes to save enough money so that she and her brothers can be together again.

Ellie's livelihood is seriously jeopardized when she's injured and the handsome town doctor, Caleb Chaney, has to put her arm in a cast. After the hotel manager informs Ellie she can't resume working until the cast is off, Ellie returns to Dr Chaney hoping that he will remove the cast.

Although people in Newton have questioned Caleb's skills as a doctor because he could not save his wife from dying, and because of his forthright way of practicing medicine, Caleb cares deeply for all his patients. He tells Ellie the cast must stay on but that he will help her look for work. A widower with a baby boy to care for, Caleb decides to hire Ellie to stay with his son while he is caring for a seriously ill patient.

The arrangement works well, so well that Caleb decides to make it permanent by asking Ellie to marry him. Ellie never thought to marry, but she loves Caleb's son and marrying Caleb would solve the problem of providing for her brothers. Ellie agrees to marry Caleb in name only, but she has her doubts about the marriage. Ellie admires Caleb and his family, she's doesn't believe she's good enough for him nor does she believe she can ever be a real wife to him.

The Doctor's Wife is a compelling, emotional story, you'd have to have a hard heart not to root for Ellie. Occasionally, however, I felt emotionally blackmailed into rooting for her simply because she had been through so much. And I thought it was way too much of a coincidence that Ellie's nemesis just happens to be Caleb's former father-in-law.

Certainly Ellie and Caleb are very interesting characters: each with her/his own set of problems and frailties. However, while Ellie continues to grow and develop as a character, Caleb's character doesn't receive the same attention. Which makes the start of the story fine reading, but leaves the ending with some loose ends.

I wanted a relationship between Caleb and Ellie that was more than just getting over Ellie's baggage. Their relationship evolved but never into something as intense or as mutually beneficial as I'd hoped.

Although Caleb's problems may seem petty in comparison to Ellie's, I would have liked to see Caleb come more to terms with losing his patients, including his first wife. And I would have liked a final chapter or two devoted to Caleb and Ellie to working together to establish his place in the town as a doctor who tells his patients the truth and gives them the best care possible.

--Judith Flavell

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