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Man with a Past    by Kay Stockham order for
Man with a Past
by Kay Stockham
Order:  USA  Can
Harlequin, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton

Joe Brody has just gotten out of a ten-year prison stay and returned to his hometown to be near his aging father. Joe was convicted of killing (at age eighteen) his two-month-old baby by shaking her to death. Now, the town hates him as a baby killer, though Joe has always claimed to be innocent.

Ashley Cade, a recent resident of this small town, is finding it hard to be accepted. She is a widow, her husband Mac (who never got to see his son Max) one of the first casualties of the Iraq war. Ashley bought the old house owned by Wilson Woodrow, a friend of Joe's father Ted, who resides in the old folks' home. Wilson lives with Ashley as part of their agreement when she bought his place, and is trying to renovate it as a Bed and Breakfast Inn. She needs the income the B&B, and hope to be accepted by the town's residents.

Joe doesn't have a place to live, but Wilson allows him to sleep in his part of the house, away from Ashley and Max. Ashley hires Joe to do renovation, not knowing who he really is, but trusting Wilson's judgement of this mystery man. All she knows is that he once had a baby girl, who died as an infant. Ashley sees a man who has lost a child and is afraid to get attached to another infant. Joe, however, knows that once she finds out why he went to prison, she will hate him just like the rest of the town. But his father believes in him, and so does Wilson. In the meantime, Ashley and Joe discover that they have great chemistry together, and she sees how caring a person he is, especially with her son.

Man with a Past is a well-written romance, with several serious interwoven themes, including that of loss of a spouse (Ashley's story) and being accused wrongly of a crime (Joe's story). The reader will understand immediately that Joe is innocent, but it takes a lot of effort to clear his name and to redeem himself in the eyes of the townspeople. Fans of contemporary romances will enjoy this story filled with likeable characters and an absorbing plot.

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