Prickly Pear

In Troubleís Arms
by Ronda Thompson
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4716-0
When Loreen Matland marries Jake Winslow within a few minutes of first meeting him, she doesnít see any reason why she needs to tell him ALL the reasons she had asked for a mail-order groom. All he needs to do is get one good crop from their Texas farm, split the proceeds and then she and her two younger siblings will be on their way to anywhere else. Jake is welcome to the farm, such as it is. That is the deal they agree to and that is all she figures he needs to know.

Of course he does find out a lot more about why she needs to get married. The first reason is the town bully, Billy Waylan, who is after her. It would be hard not to notice Billy and his gang when they rule the nearby town and all the neighbors. Since Billy killed her older brother, it is clear Billy means business when he threatens Lori. And Jake quickly discovers Loriís little family is close to completely running out of food and money. He has to use his own money to get them supplies.

Then again Jake hasnít told Lori everything, either. He wonít explain why he absolutely refuses to use a gun, even though Billy threatens them all. In fact she canít figure out why he is willing to stay here in the first place given that he can see things are far from wonderful on the farm.

And neither of them is willing to tell each other just how attracted they are to each other. After all, Lori has no respect for a coward who wonít fight and Jake knows he isnít willing to take on all the trouble Lori packs with her. Confessing their interest would only make matters worse.

Yeah, right. Of course the two of them stay together. Of course the town comes to depend on Jake to make everything right and, finally, to try to help Jake out when he needs help. Of course Lori and Jake have to reveal all their secrets to each other. Unfortunately, the story is pretty trite -- the mysterious stranger shows up to save the day. Despite his refusal to use a gun, he outmans the bad guys. The beautiful heroine makes a home for the stranger and . . . I know weíve heard this story somewhere before.

But you do root for Lori, who fights hard for herself and her family. Her siblings come across as real children who a man like Jake could come to love. Several of the neighbors turn out to be interesting characters that you want to know more about. The details about the hard work required on a small farm ring true.

Last but not least, you do like Jake, who makes a place for himself with his hard work and courage. Still, the characters donít quite rise above the less than surprising plot twists, even though you wish they could.

--Irene Williams

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