The Rancher's Runaway Bride

The Rancher Takes a Wife
by Judith Bowen
(Harl. Super. #900, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70900-5
Priscilla “Cilla” Prescott moved to the tiny town of Glory to put her inheritance to good use. Her preschool is almost ready for business, she just needs to complete some projects, and sign up more students. Money is going to be tight for a while, so the success and operation of the school is all on her shoulders.

When lady’s man Jeremiah Blake brings his niece to enroll in the program, he is instantly smitten with the new town resident and determined to show her a good time. But Cilla throws up a major roadblock when she says she’s not interested in dating anyone at the moment. She’s just too busy with her school, and doesn’t need an added distraction. Never saying no to a challenge, Jeremiah sets out to change her mind.

I must confess that one of my favorite guilty pleasures in romance novels is the take-charge, stubborn, incredibly sexy, cowboy. So, for this reason, I really found myself liking Jeremiah, even at times when he’s a bit infuriating. Sure he goes after Cilla initially because she’s a challenge, but quickly finds himself enraptured with her. This didn’t bother me as much as it probably should. Why? Because I know quite a few men and women who behave in the exact same manner in real life. They want what they can’t have.

With Cilla, it was considerably harder to find a silver lining. She immediately comes off as snobbish.

“I mean - a cowboy? In this day and age? She wasn’t a snob, but she just couldn’t imagine what she’d have to say to a man like Jeremiah or any of the other ranch hands on offer. She knew nothing about cows or horses or - or hay. Things that, presumably, they found riveting.”

She wasn’t a snob? Exactly what is she then? And it doesn’t stop there.

“Jeremiah Blake. A Glory man. A cowboy. A man who spent half his time on a horse and the other half in the company of semiliterate men who chewed tobacco that came in little round cans…”

Apparently cowboys are only capable of carrying on conversations about their work. Like nurses only know about patients, mechanics about cars and librarians about books. And why are cowboys automatically labeled semiliterate? Because they work outdoors they can’t read well?

The flow of the story was also problematic. More than once the plot takes big leaps ahead, leaving several events unexplored. I found myself asking “but what about?” quite a bit. In chapter 3 Cilla is planning a charity auction to raise money for the preschool. By chapter 4 the charity auction is under way. The planning just flew right by. Then in chapter 7, Cilla takes a underprivileged child to Jeremiah’s ranch for some horseback riding. She also gets a tour of the ranch and his living quarters. Chapter 8 they’re installing playground equipment at her preschool. What did she think of the ranch? Jeremiah’s living quarters? We leave them at the ranch and immediately jump to the next day.

The final straw was the sappy and loose ending. Without giving too much away, there’s another subplot involving one of Cilla’s students. The resolution is concluded, but there are some big gaping legal holes that had me audibly groaning. And while in the beginning, Cilla wants nothing more than to run her own preschool, she’s singing a different tune by the ending, making me think she was kidnapped and replaced by a pod person.

The Rancher Takes a Wife is actually a sequel to an earlier Harlequin Superromance The Rancher’s Runaway Bride. Fans of the first book may enjoy this return visit to Glory and the Blake brothers. I’m not giving up on sexy cowboy heroes, just continuing the search elsewhere.

--Wendy Crutcher

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