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Sherriff's Pregnant Wife coverI’ll admit being hard to please. Sometimes the titles are too vague, while other times they are too specific. The Sheriff’s Pregnant Wife sounds more like a working title than a release, but I must admit it’s a better working title than I use (Romance 1, Romance 2, etc.) This is a 2007 Harlequin from Patricia Thayer. A look at her books (40 in twenty years) shows a fondness for western themes and babies, and this one is part of a series of five books, all featuring single parents, usually with someone coming, or coming back, to Destiny, Colorado. (My inner cynic wonders if the town slogan is “There’s no escaping”?)

Paige and Reed were childhood sweethearts, and stayed close through high school. Then they broke up and went separate ways. They started lives,¬† careers, and relationships in different cities, but came back to their hometown. Reed had to care for his mother, and left the FBI after his partner and lover was killed. As the story opens, Paige, a lawyer working in the Denver DA’s office, is coming back to set up her own law office and have her baby, after her lover announces he is not actually divorced, and returning to his wife.

This is a second chance plot, enriched with a mystery concerning the long ago disappearance of Reed’s father, which made things harder in his already difficult childhood. There’s a hefty serving of family events and conversations, with siblings, parents, and weddings all going on. I grew up with few relatives nearby, and moved enough that the concept of a hometown and ancestral home means nothing to me, so it’s an odd and slightly exotic world.

The biggest problem I have with second chance plots is their tendency to have people, usually men, who have never gotten over someone. It’s romantic, I suppose, but also slightly creepy. All these years, and you never met someone else? Or if you did, it was meaningless. Granted, some lovers are not as special as others, but that brings me to a second common problem with these plots: The significance of other lovers is minimized. Reed misses his partner, but also downplays her, saying “we’ve all needed someone to be there. Sometimes it might not be the person we want it to be.” And Paige’s former lover is such scum we are left wondering why she ever connected with him in the first place. Former lovers, it seems, have plot functions (create a wound, get a character pregnant), but are rarely allowed any positive current role in a character’s life.

I always felt sorry for Rosaline:

Our Romeo hath not been in bed tonight.

That last is true; the sweeter rest was mine.

God pardon sin! wast thou with Rosaline?

With Rosaline, my ghostly father? no;
I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.

Then again, considering how things turned out, she might have decided being dumped by Romeo was for the best. Contemporary romance novels have gotten away from virgins finding their husbands, but the way some second chance novels are written, it’s as if that’s still the ideal, and any interim relationships were a mistake. This novel is by no means the worst example of this.

This novel also perpetuates a pet peeve where children are involved – no child support, and no involvement of the biological father. Paige is hired to collect child support by one of her clients, so the issue is acknowledged, but Paige herself neither needs nor wants child support. Contemporary romances try to acknowledge modern families, where there may be children from different parents, but then don’t want to acknowledge the implications of that, which is families where children have different parents. All of this makes me want to write romances where former lovers are still friends, and children can have both a birth parent and a caring step-parent.

Okay, enough ranting.

The mystery subplot is well done, and well integrated into the romance plot. It increases the suspense, provides more reasons for our couple to be together, and the climax of that plot is also the all is lost moment of the romance plot. On the other hand, our couple might never have been apart for so long if they had talked a little more, a decade ago, or if Reed had read her letters instead of throwing them away. As a result, there’s not a lot of character growth, but it is suggested that both are more mature than they were in high school, and better prepared for a relationship than they were as teens.

Romantic tension is well maintained throughout, and the characters are ordinary people, both aspects I appreciate. The writing is good, though a couple of times there’s a static description of clothing when a known character appears, and I’m not sure, what, if anything, it is supposed to mean. “He was dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a burgundy polo shirt.” “The big man was dressed in a dark blue sport shirt and taupe colored trousers.” These sentences seem like character notes that made it into the final draft, and perhaps they stand out because most of the writing is smother.

In my ideal romances, the couple come together because they want to be together, not because they need to be together, and that’s the case here. Reed rescues Paige in a few minor incidents, such as a fall, but he’s not rescuing her from her pregnancy, and she helps him resolve the disappearance of his father. It’s also made clear that she rescued him when he was picked on as a child, so they come together more or less as equals. As second chance stories go, this is a pleasant read.