Running Wild: The Men from Battle Ridge

Linda Howard and Linda Jones
December 2012, Contemporary Romance
Ballantine Books, $7.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345520785

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Running Wild is the second successful collaboration between Linda Howard and Linda Jones. From my point of view the two have merged their writing talents seamlessly to write a slightly flawed but enjoyable read.

Zeke Decker never really thought that his long time housekeeper Libby would leave, even though she gave him two weeks' notice. He tried playing on her pity, but she stands firm, explaining that her daughter needs her. Zeke knows that she is going to be downright impossible to replace. Sure, he pays a decent wage, but with the failing economy, folks are leaving Battle Ridge. And not too many people want to live on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. Ten months later finding the right person is still eluding him. Right now Spencer, one of his ranch hands, is doing the cooking, but no one is happy with that situation - especially since Spencer is the one that collects bull semen too. Spencer is being a good sport about it, but he didn’t sign up to be a cook and while his cooking is edible most of the time, it is nothing to write home about. The ranch hands are as anxious as Zeke for a real cook.

Carlin Reed had only one lapse in judgment, and that lapse turned her life into a living nightmare. When Brad asked her out she agreed. When she decided she wasn’t interested in dating him anymore, he didn’t take it well. After she discovered him stalking her, she made a harassment complaint to the police department, trusting in the system, even though Brad was a police officer. The complaint didn’t faze Brad, since his fellow officers stood by him. Spooked, Carlin decides that the smart thing to do is leave Houston. But even after her move to Dallas, she can’t stop looking over her shoulder.

Her instincts serve her well but are unable to save her co-worker and friend Jina who, after borrowing Carline’s distinctive red raincoat, is killed by an unknown person while walking from work to a pizza eatery. Again Carlin tries to inform law enforcement of her fears but Brad has an airtight alibi. With no other option, she goes on the run. Since Brad is good with computers she makes sure that there is no bank account, W-2, or anything else to lead him to her. Still she is afraid to stay in one place for any length of time. After ten months on the run she is still living in fear. However, Battle Ridge, Wyoming, population 2,387, appears safe. Since she is running low on cash she decides to ask around for work. Good fortune is on her side when she meets Kat, the owner of The Pie Hole. Kat accepts Carlin’s explanation of why cash is needed and even provides her with a place to stay, but warns her that the work is seasonal.

Zeke and Kat are cousins, so when he is in town Zeke is a frequent visitor to The Pie Hole. The attraction between Zeke and Carlin is instantaneous but so is the animosity. Kat first brings up the idea of Carlin working for Zeke, but the last thing he needs is a woman he wants to bed working for him. But after Spencer is injured by a bull, Zeke swallows his pride and misgivings. Carlin is not sold on the idea either, but an isolated ranch is the perfect hideout, and plus it will allow her to save up some money.

The little woman bringing order to the household chaos is a somewhat clichéd plot device, but for me it is one of the strongest parts of the book. I felt both amusement and smugness in the fact that it took a woman to get the job done right.

Zeke and Carlin’s relationship is believable, if not exactly steamy. However if I am honest, I much prefer relationships that are more reality based, so for me this is more a plus than a minus. I accepted that both of them had valid reservations about acting on their attraction.

The whole stalker plot is the weakest part of the book, especially after Carlin has her TSTL moment towards the end. Brad borders on being a caricature. Since I never had any doubt about the ending, once the relationship between Zeke and Carlin is secure, I lost interest in Brad. Still, I really like all the others characters – they seem so genuine. And the relationships – like the friendship between Kat and Carlin - are very authentic.

The series overview blurb makes it seem like this book is the first in a series. I hope so, because the town and the characters do interest me enough to pick up the next book in the series.

-- Leigh Davis

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