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The Drifter by Susan Wiggs
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-459-3
****
The Drifter is a captivating story about a man who has known too much freedom and a woman who has known too little. This is a true "opposites attract" romance, one that will linger in your mind long after you close the cover.

Doctor Leah Mundy is awakened from a sound sleep one night to find a shaggy man holding a gun to her head. He is Jackson Underhill, and he is looking for Doc Mundy. When Leah informs him that she is the good doctor, he demands that she dress and accompany him down to the docks, where his wife is lying ill aboard his boat.

Leah, having no choice, goes to investigate the woman and her illness. She quickly discovers that the wife, Carrie, is pregnant. This seems to shock Jackson. Leah insists that Carrie be moved to Leah's own house where she can be cared for properly. Jackson, after first refusing, finally gives in.

Jackson and Carrie are a strange couple, indeed. They seem to be completely devoted to each other, but the pieces don't quite… fit. Leah finds that Carrie is a morphine addict. When she loses the baby, neither she nor Jackson seem particularly grief-stricken. Meanwhile, Leah and Jackson strike up a tentative friendship. He admires her spunk, while wondering why she has no husband and family. Why is her entire life wrapped up in caring for her patients? Leah is impressed by Jackson's strength and humor, but she puzzles over his secretiveness. What does he have to hide?

Carrie, in an unexpected twist, runs off with a wealthy townsman and is killed in a boating accident shortly thereafter. By now readers will have discovered the truth about Jackson and Carrie's strange relationship, but Leah is left in the dark. As Jackson recovers from his shock and grief, he turns to Leah. This is a new start for them both, if they only can muster the courage to take it.

The spunky but repressed Leah was a refreshing and interesting character. Her growth as she comes out of her self-imposed emotional exile is a journey that will leave more than one reader a bit misty-eyed. Jackson, the man on the run who has never known a home, is a perfect match for the stifled Leah, who has never known the joy of spontaneous living.

Carrie was an unusual character. Drug addicts rarely pop up in historical romances, at least not as such a pivotal character. My only quibble with the entire novel was the rather cliched plot device used to keep Carrie in the story after she was killed. Savvy readers will spot this coming a mile away.

Having said that, the ending was fast-paced and exciting. Jackson, after a bit of self-righteous waffling, finally comes through at the crucial moment. Not that Leah would let him do anything different.

Susan Wiggs offers readers a lovely bit of summer entertainment in The Drifter. Her reputation for intelligent, well-crafted stories is well-deserved. Fill your iced tea glass, sit back in your favorite chair, and enjoy.

--Cathy Sova


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