"A Few Days in Weasel Creek" has all the elements of the usual love story, minus the mush. Unlike its gooey counterparts, it is a story of subtle strength rather than of trite romance.

Beldon, the boy, meets Locksley, the girl, at a gas station in small-town Georgia. Beldon is leaving his hometown and extended family for a smaller town in Texas and a crop-dusting partnership. Locklsey is just passing through on her way to California. The two get together when Beldon hitches Locksley's small house-trailer onto his pickup truck.

If house-trailer hitchhiking is the first surprise of this first novel, Locksley is the second. She is young, daring, a bit on the jaded side and stubbornly determined to settle down in California and turn respectable. Since she has been vagrant most of her life, the urge to settle down is not so startling. But wanting to entrap a prospective husband by posing as a forlorn widow is. For Locksley, this ruse is all in a day's scheming -- or was before Beldon came along.

Independent-minded like Loksley, the older, and no less innocent, Beldon is much more in love with his freedom. His yearning for freedom gives him the strength and stubbornness to flee his family's clutches. Ironically, Locksley falls in love with the strength, but not the stubbornness. The latter is what threatens to split the two apart.

Goals are within grasp for the first time in either's life. Once Beldon drops Locksley off in Texas she won't be so far from California, and he'll be far enough away from Georgia. However, their growing attachment to each other confuses Locksley and a pause in Weasel Creek, Ark. -- where Beldon delivers money to an aunt -- only muddles things further. Even impervious Beldon is affected. No matter how wonderful the crop-dusting job might turn out to be, it won't quite match the easy comfort he feels with Locksley.

It is comfort more than love that the two share and that, in a subtle way, is what Joanna Brent suggests love is all about. Yet, the suggestion is only hinted at, never stated or emphasized. It is merely felt.

At first guess Brent seems biased, far more interested in whom love conquers than in how. How is too incidental, like the initial gas station meeting between Beldon and Locksley. If Beldon and Locksley hadn't been who and how they were, love never could have materialized so effortlessly, so enviously.

Because they seem real, the simple farmboy and his uneducated companion are inspiring, even admirable characters. Brent's strong writing and skillful twists of mind breathe strength and imagination into the lovers.

Brent is always in control, so much so that she can turn the story over to her characters and not worry about them overstepping the bounds of the plot of delivering any heavy-handed messages. There is in fact no message to deliver. Beldon and Locksley simply fall in love.

Brents style is plain and spare, the perfect companion for a drive through Georgia to Arkansas. Southern accents aren't too thick. Characters' thoughts aren't unnaturally profound. But, at the same time, they're deceptively complex -- rather like the novel itself.