Dash to the Altar

Private Eyeful

Shane's Last Stand

Almost a Cowboy
by Ruth Jean Dale
(Harl. Tempt. #778, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-2878-X
As a native Texan I must confess that I've never been to a dude ranch. The second verse to that is that I've never wanted to visit one, either. Truth be told, Ruth Jean Dale's trilogy about triplets who inherit a Texas dude ranch didn't whet my interest in visiting any dude ranch one bit. Almost a Cowboy is the second book in Dale's ‘Gone to Texas' trilogy. All the talk about dudes, hoe-downs and chuck wagon cuisine just seemed affected rather than authentic.

A bit of research turned up the background information for this trilogy. The Keene triplets, who'd inherited a dude ranch in Hard Knox, Texas, near San Antonio, arrived to discover that it was run-down. Book one, The Wrangler's Woman, was Dani's story. Book three, The Cowgirl's Man, will feature Niki. While all three triplets are in evidence, this is Toni's story. Notice that all three sisters have four-letter names that end in the same vowel. Did it take a while to keep them straight? You can bet a sarsparilla that it did.

The Keene triplets decide to sponsor a series of women-only weeks at their dude ranch, the Rocking K, hoping that the idea will be financially successful. They'll pair two lady dudes with a personal cowboy. "He'll answer her questions, saddle her horse, dance with her at hoe-downs and make her feel like the Queen of the West."

A snag occurs on the first day. Simon Barnett arrives in a limo, wearing a black suit, white tie, aviator sunglasses and a rather imperious attitude. Simon stands out the same way a rose would in a bunch of bluebonnets. He's here to reclaim his sister, twenty-one-year-old Marilee. Simon is sure that Marilee is using the week's stay as a cover to sneak away and meet a MAN!

When Toni mentions that it's a ladies-only week, Simon uses two words that drive fear into the triplets' hearts: Sexual Discrimination! After a quick caucus, they decide that this city slicker's threat is perhaps a valid one. Suddenly it's a dudes and dudettes week, with Simon commandeering Toni to be his personal cowgirl.

What could have been an enjoyable "Love Boat on the ranch" becomes tedious. Why? Both leads become wishy-washy. Simon decides that he wants to marry Toni. When she throws roadblocks in his way, he vacillates. Maybe she's right. Maybe they are too different. Maybe he should go back to San Antonio and forget her. Naaah, he still wants to marry her.

Toni, known as the nice sister, slowly begins to lose her cool. She gets impatient! She gets angry! After she and Simon spend a hot night in San Antonio, she gets nutso! She loves him. No, she really can't. They're too different. He's not a cowboy. When she senses that Simon has actually lost interest in her, then she finally realizes that she loves him. Toni, even though she's twenty-six, has all the emotional depth of a high school student.

My overall objection to Almost a Cowboy is the basic immaturity of the characters. Seriously, it seems to me that if you change the ages, this could have been a YA novel. Toni and Simon never had any real presence or any real impact but were superficial images. Their actions reeked of adolescence arrested development.

I'm not too sure about Niki's story either, coming next month. When I read that she was Miss Texas Barmaid and would be busy performing her ceremonial duties, I didn't know whether to laugh or groan. I still don't.

--Linda Mowery

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