A Difficult Woman
by Jeannie Watt
(Harl Super Rom. #1379, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0373-71379-7
****
It is not often that a brand new author blends the right amount of angst with willingness to risk in a character. In Jeannie Watt’s debut, she not only does it well with one character, but with both main characters. A Difficult Woman is not just a good first novel; it is a good novel, period.

Tara Sullivan has worked hard for everything she has, both physically and emotionally. She has had some rough spots but has come through with shining colors and knows she can do it on her own. First, her father was arrested and sent to prison for embezzling when she was growing up, and her small town of Night Sky, Nevada never let Tara and her brother forget it. Her high school classmates even went so far as to nominate her as prom queen, only to pull a trick in order to make it a humiliation, not an honor. She packed up and left with her brother after graduation and moved to the slightly larger town of Elko.

Tara found a teaching job and even ran into someone from Night Sky who wanted to date her. She fell for his charm, only to discover that he just wanted her body. Ryan Martin, son of one of the richest men in Night Sky, was scum and rather than being the charming lover she thought, he was selfish and brutal and left her hurting. In the end though, Tara got her revenge when he confronted her later. She popped him in the face, breaking his nose. Shortly thereafter, Ryan lost his prestigious job and has also blamed Tara.

Now Tara is back in Night Sky. Her aunt left her a Victorian mansion that she has always loved. Tara takes over the mortgage payments, deciding to turn it into a bed and breakfast. She hopes this will provide support so she can continue to help pay her brother Nicky’s college tuition. She finds out rather quickly that having the Martins for an enemy is not a good thing. She finds it hard to hire help and contractors; the bank won’t refinance her balloon payment and Ryan is bound and determined to make her life miserable.

Luckily, Tara has a few friends, including a county deputy named Rafe and an older man who is semi-retired named Luke. Luke brings in a friend of his from Reno to help her with the major renovations on her house. She has a deadline due to a big “Reunion” weekend in Night Sky which will pull in people from all over and could help her establish her business. Matt Connors is a Reno policeman who is on a leave of absence following an “incident” where he saved a citizen but acted a bit too haphazardly for his captain.

Luckily for the story, Matt is also a master carpenter, having worked in construction before becoming a cop. He agrees to help Tara and there is a lot to do. Basically they are redoing the entire house, porch, gazebo and all. He and Tara touch nerves with each other immediately and they slowly realize that it is attraction, not annoyance, that causes the spark. Tara is leery because she has not had any relationship since Ryan and Matt is cautious because his marriage ended in divorce, partly because of his focus on his work and the stress surrounding that. The sexual tension builds slowly, but it feels just right due to all the issues they are both handling. The more important aspect also builds nicely and is the key – they form an attachment and a relationship built on trust and caring. When the sex happens, it seems right.

This is a rather complicated tale, with many characters popping in and out to set the stage for the action and also to fill in the background material. This could easily become a series, with Nicky and Rafe both strong candidates for stories of their own. But it is more a look at two people whose paths have crossed and have to determine if what they have is just a passing in the night…or more. The author really makes you feel Tara’s frustration when she can’t get a loan and knows it is due to the Martin’s influence. But you also feel her backbone get stronger when Ryan acts an ass and deserves his comeuppance.

Matt, first of all is a nice guy. He even wears glasses. I am pleased that a new author was able to give us a hero who is all the things we want in a hero, but isn’t physically perfect. And he is not a geek or weak in any way. You feel his frustration and sense of helplessness at times and his strong sense of protectiveness at others.

A Difficult Woman is a debut novel to be proud of and Jeannie Watt is an author to keep your eye on. I highly recommend this one as a way of introduction to her.

--Shirley Lyons


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