When Sheriff Jake Reed finds it expedient to leave town, he assumes another's identity. Posing as Eugene Pendergast, he heads for Annsboro, Texas as the town's new schoolteacher.

Temporary schoolmarm, Cecilia Summertree suspects that Jake is a fraud. She decides to find work in Annsboro to keep an eye on him. Now Jake has this infernal woman watching him and feels as if he's gone from the frying pan into the fire.

Cecilia's schemes to put Jake in a bad light with the town's folk eventually backfire. He even teases her about falling in love with him.

Suddenly, Eugene's former college classmate arrives. Jake fakes illness and then hightails it out of town, riding shotgun on the stage. When they are attacked by bandits, who turn out to be Jake's old nemeses, he is shot and returns to Annsboro as a hero.

Too many unanswered questions and glib answers lead Cecilia to wonder if Jake is a hero or a desperado. But the most important question remains: is she losing her heart to him?

Ms. Ireland has made a smooth transition from series romance to historical in her debut western. CECILIA AND THE STRANGER, with its small town hominess and subtle humor, is a heart warming, thoroughly enjoyable read. SENSUAL (Sept., 384 pp., $4.99)

Reviewed by: 
Frances L. Trainor