To Tame a Texan
by Evelyn Crowe, Lorraine Heath, Vivian Vaughan, & Eileen Wilks
(St. Martin's Press, $ 5.99, PG) ISBN 0-312-96886-8
To Tame a Texan includes something for every reader who enjoys tales of the American West. Authors Evelyn Crowe, Lorraine Heath, Vivian Vaughan and Eileen Wilks offer four brief stories ranging in length from sixty-three to eighty-one pages, each a quick, entertaining read on its own. All are set on Texas ranches – one near Austin, the others as far west as the Davis Mountains. The collection balances contemporary and historical tales – two in the present, two in the eighteen-eighties.

"Long Stretch of Lonesome" is the story of a road-weary gunslinger and a wronged woman. Lillian Madison and Chance Wilder meet when her little brother, Toby, finds the notorious hired gun with his back to the wall in the local saloon, and offers Chance "everything" he owns to save his sister. After rescuing Lillian from a near rape and finding out more about the Madisons' situation, Chance turns down an offer to run her off her land. No one else offers him "everything" as Toby has. While sixty-three pages are enough to display Lorraine Heath's considerable writing skills, unfortunately the total effect of this short-story-plus-epilogue is of an outline for a longer book.

Evelyn Crowe's "Best Laid Plans" is a contemporary story of misunderstandings, second chances and corruption in high places. Kathleen Calhoun is an associate in the Houston DA's office, assigned to prosecute the accused killer of Cole Jackson's younger brother. While developing the case for trial, Katie and Cole fall in love. On Katie's turf, since the fatal accident occurred in Houston, Cole charms Katie and her extended family. She memorizes everything about his ranch without ever having been there. When the trial goes awry, Cole bolts, spending two years wallowing in bitterness and isolation.

All I can say about this little tale is that Katie's got "grit." I recommend this story highly for all you aspiring attorneys. It's a dose of reality!

In "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" Vivian Vaughan recreates the early days of rodeo while telling a tale of neighboring ranch families attempting to arrange the marriage of their offspring with nearly drastic results. The sweetheart of this story is Catarina Ramirez, daughter of the Ballou ranch's foreman and his wife, the ranch's head cook. As young children, Cat and Monte Ballou share a relationship which is tolerated by his parents, since the area is isolated and there are no other playmates with the exception of neighbor, Suzanna Krandall, who joins them frequently.

When the friendship between Monte and Cat changes to young love, Monte Ballou is spirited away, first to school in the east, then south to run a family ranch in Mexico. Cat's parents accept her lot in life, expecting her to succeed her mother as cook and encouraging her to marry a ranch-hand who will succeed her father. Luckily, her grandfather has a gift with wild horses, and decides to intervene so Cat can "get her man."

In the fourth and last story, Eileen Wilk's "A Tempting Offer," neighboring ranches, childhood friendships and a long-absent hero again play a role but in an entirely different way from the preceding tale. Ah the diversity of romantic fiction! Tucker Evans has finally saved enough in rodeo winnings to return home and restore his family's ranch. Sam, a.k.a. Sherry Ann, is the proverbial tomboy, kid sister who palled around with Tucker and her stepbrother, Dan, for years before the two men went off "to see the world." Sam is thrilled by Tucker's return and shocked to find out he has a fiancée. How can her hero consider marrying a woman whose fake nails would interfere seriously with her cooking!

With the assistance of her mentor, J.J., an old cowboy on her stepfather's ranch, Sam dons a honky-tonk outfit and heads off to the engagement party, prepared to make Tucker an offer he cannot refuse. Once Tucker truly looks at Sam, he has to work through his fear of mixing friendship, which he prizes, and love, which he considers unreliable. This story strikes a nearly perfect balance between laugh out loud humor and tug on your heartstrings sweetness.

To Tame a Texan is a good collection. Interesting settings and well-defined characters provide vitality in a compact format. You will be surprised to find out who or what is being tamed as you move from one tale to the next.

--Sue Klock

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