Anything But Mine
by Linda Winfree, contemporary (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-891-7

I love the cover art of Linda Winfree's Anything But Mine. No, not because if I squint long enough, the guy starts to resemble David Beckham, but because of the expression on the woman's face. I don't know, there's something about that dreamy expression that has me pausing to look at the cover and wondering what she is thinking as the man kisses her forehead.

Anything But Mine is part of Linda Winfree's Heart Of The South series, which revolves around a bunch of brothers and friends who always find themselves in trouble with the bad guys one way or the other. This one can stand alone, but heroine Autry Holton and the hero Stanton Reed are already intimate by the time the story begins - she's four months pregnant with his kid. Unfortunately, she realized her condition after she decided to break up with him so she's now not sure how to or whether she should even tell him about the baby. The situation is even more complicated by the fact that, as a public defender, she's assigned to defend the same bad guy that our Sheriff hero Stanton and his friends had worked hard to put behind bars. However, Autry is not going to avoid Stanton that easily, especially when someone starts trying to scare or even kill her and our hero has to step up to the rescue.

I know, that thing about the baby is probably what you're worrying. The truth comes out pretty early here, which is a good thing, but unfortunately, Stanton then insists that they get married and she, naturally, refuses because she doesn't believe that he loves her enough to make the marriage work. So it's back to that same old emotional dilemma, although to be fair to Autry, she's not in the 1800s anymore where women have no choice but to depend on the man to put a roof over her head so it's probably better to have the kid on her own than to force it to grow up in an unhappy household. Also, Stanton had two kids of his own from previous marriages and he's pretty much a weekend daddy to them. He has told Autry enough that his previous marriage had soured him when it comes to giving the whole marriage and fatherhood thing another try. Autry is therefore not completely wrong when it comes to her assumption that he is not going to be happy to have a third kid. But it is a predictable dilemma though, that's why I sigh.

I like Anything But Mine. Romantic suspenses tend to be touch and go where I am concerned, which often the authors unable to get the balance between romance and suspense right so more often than not, both romance and suspense end up being underdeveloped. However, while the suspense isn't anything out of the ordinary here, Ms Winfree succeeds very well in balancing it with the romance so that both elements complement each other very nicely. As the suspense takes more and more prominence as the story progresses, the author manages to develop the relationship between Autry and Stanton very well along with the suspense storyline. It helps that both characters are intelligent people who can open up and talk despite having all kinds of initial wrong assumptions about the other person. Autry is at the end of the day a damsel in distress from start to finish, but she's a pretty smart one who has a healthy sense of awareness about her situation and her relationship with Stanton. Stanton is also a nice hero - he's a man who has made mistakes in his life but he's determined to do things right this time around. His past mistakes don't make him a jerk, but rather, someone who screws up now and then like everyone else would, in my opinion.

The suspense is probably the weakest element in this story, in the sense that there is nothing out of the ordinary or expected there, but Ms Winfree manages to put everything together along with the romance to make this one a gripping and emotionally-charged read. I really like this one.

Rating: 88

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