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Hired by the Cowboy, by Donna Alward, is a Harlequin in the Romance line. In other words, it’s the core product: “A feel good love story.” This was Alward’s first Harlequin, and is currently available as a free ebook.

The slightly exotic setting is Alberta, Canada, and our hero is not so much a cowboy as a ranch owner, with a realistic problem. He cannot sell his cattle due to a ban on beef exports, and the family farm may be lost. Unfortunately, he also has an “it only happens in romance novels” solution: Marry, and get access to a trust fund. So he needs a bride, and isn’t that fussy. He’s been so busy ranching he hasn’t been distracted by women.

Meanwhile, Alex is pregnant, abandoned, and stuck in a dead end job. When she faints on the street, the gallant stranger who comes to her rescue soon realizes he’s found just the woman who could answer his financial prayers. I was disappointed by Alex. She has the wit and resources to do some online research before agreeing to a sham marriage with a  stranger, but not only is she a hopeless cook, she wants to be a good one to please her man.

The shaky premise is enough to bring our couple together and isolate them from everyone else, and from there nature takes its course. As Ian Fleming noted, “nothing propinks like propinquity.” A wise and worldly grandmother helps, and our couple discover some shared wounds in their past that help bring them together.

I don’t have a problem with a chance meeting leading to romance, but when there’s a business agreement in between, the dance of desire is blunted. This may be deliberate and consistent with the very low level of sexuality in the Romance line. I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of the man rescuing the woman. Alward writes very well, and I like the real world location references, but I’d like to see something from her with a little more passion and mutual contributions to the relationship.

This is one of several romances I have read where there is an infant in the picture. It’s an opportunity for the men to demonstrate their sensitivity and allows for additional plot complications, and in some cases, erotic situations. On the other hand, there’s a faint tone of unwed mother redemption that is troubling.  Also troubling is the complete lack of participation of the biological fathers. They are out of the picture, with no visitation and provide no support. That certainly happens, but the combination of suggesting unwed mothers are damaged goods and allowing fathers to walk away is disturbingly sexist. Where are the romances with strong female characters? (I’ve read a couple and reviews are coming soon).

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