Cowboy With a Badge

Dark Side of the Moon

The Fugitive Bride

Rodeo Man

The Marriage Protection Program by Margaret Watson
(Silh. Intimate Mom #951, $4.25, PG-13) 0-373-07951-6
Janie Murphy is a woman of mystery in Cameron, Utah. She seems to have no past and she doesn't socialize, except to make chitchat with the customers who visit her restaurant, Heaven on Seventh. The townspeople have accepted her after three years, despite her aloofness. Only Ben Jackson, the town's deputy, seems to wonder about the wariness is Janie's eyes.

Five months before the story opens, we learn that Ben and Janie shared a reckless night of passion. Since then, they've avoided each other. But people in Cameron see the attraction these two have for each other. When Ben, a loner himself, needs to marry in order to adopt Rafael, an orphaned South American boy, Janie is his only suitable choice for a wife.

Janie is not who everyone thinks she is. She's in the witness protection program and fears for her life every day. Years before when she lived in Chicago, the old Janie, "Mary Frances," witnessed the execution-style murder of her boss. She was able to testify at the trial and helped put the executioner behind bars. But there was someone else with the murderer, a man who was giving the orders. Mary Frances only heard his voice. He knows what she looks like. After a brutal attack on her family, Mary Frances disappears into the Witness Protection Program, and "Janie" appears in Utah.

Janie refuses Ben's pleas to marry him. Her biggest fear is that if she gets close to people, they'll be killed. She doesn't want to put Ben or Rafael, whom she adores, in danger. But Ben won't take no for an answer, so Janie breaks down and tells him the truth about her past. Ben assures her that if she marries him, she'll be even safer by his side. And once the adoption process is over, Janie will be free to leave the marriage. She finally gives in to Ben's proposal.

But then the Chicago killer happens to find out where Janie is hiding, and all hell breaks loose. Throughout the rest of The Marriage Protection Program, Ben works hard to keep his wife safe ... and both Janie and Ben realize that maybe the marriage isn't such a sham after all.

This book was a very enjoyable afternoon read for me. There was plenty of action to keep the plot moving, interesting characters, and strong romantic tension between the hero and heroine. I really liked Janie because once she discovered she had strong feelings for Ben, she didn't try to hide them. She was honest with him, even when he was cold with her.

Ben, on the other hand, wasn't as likeable. He's the strong, silent type, the kind of guy who won't admit his feelings. But Ben's got some secrets of his own, which are revealed at the end of the novel, and from there I forgave him his coldness. I also thought the marriage of convenience idea was a bit irresponsible in this novel since there was a vulnerable child involved. In the hands of a good storyteller, however, I was able to adopt a "willing suspension of disbelief."

The Marriage Protection Program is the last book in Margaret Watson's "Cameron, Utah" series. I haven't read any of the other books, but I had no trouble reading this book as a stand-alone. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy a good romantic suspense novel.

--Diana Burrell

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