A Coal Miner's Wife
by Marin Thomas
(Harl. American #1224. $4.99, PG)† ISBN 0-373-75228-8
***
"Second chances" are one of the themes often used in category romances and this one is a nice look at a woman who gave and gave, and finally wants something for herself. It just takes a look at her past and a good man to help her see she can have it all.

A Coal Minerís Wife is Annie McKee, a woman raised by a drunken mother with an absent father. She has always been determined to leave Heatherís Hollow, Kentucky even though she is bound there by friends, family and her two little boys. Annie got married before she finished high school when she found herself pregnant with twin boys. Her husband, Sean, stood by her even though he didn't love her and often threw it up to her when they argued. Now he is dead, killed in an accident she feels partly responsible for. Sean worked at the coal mines, and he only went to work there when Annie pushed him so he would earn more money.

Now Annie is struggling because she took the settlement from the company and put it in trust so her boys would have college money and a way out of the Hollow. She is sick of taking charity but realizes that at times, she has to put the needs of her sons ahead of her pride. The Hollow is like a family, calling themselves a clan. They watch out for each other. The current designated head is Patrick Kirkpatrick, an old friend of Sean's. Patrick has always liked Annie, but felt he was too old for her sixteen when he was twenty. Sean didn't, and Patrick has always felt that it was his loss. Now he sees a way to help Annie and her sons.

Annie knows she needs a better job than waitressing if she is ever to leave the Hollow, so she enrolls in classes to take her GED. Patrick offers to help her study and to let her use his computer. She takes him up on the offer, agreeing to cook dinner for him and her 12 year old twins. This also puts her in his house and the attraction they both feel has time to fester and blossom.

There is more to the story that adds substance. There is Annie's past and her need to know her roots. Someone is growing marijuana in one of the fields recently cleared by the forest group that Patrick manages. Finally, Annie wants to leave the Hollow, and Patrick has his roots deep in the area.

The story moved along with good pacing and a lot of things happening. Annie was a bit too stubborn at times and Patrick a bit too understanding, but they are well-suited so it was easy to root for them. The boys were typical pre-teens and Patrick is man enough to be a good role model by not overwhelming them with his need to be there for them since their dad cannot.

The author added her own touch to small town nostalgia by introducing the concept of the community being a clan. This is an intriguing twist to the modern era and yet, seemed a little too much at times. I did like all the secondary characters, even though many were stereotypical of small-town America.

The Coal Miner's Wife is a nice little story and enjoyable for its charm. Despite some of the formulaic tones, Annie and Patrick work out their issues and find their HEA, ultimately making it a satisfying tale.

--Shirley Lyons


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