"Heart of the West"

Dash to the Altar

Private Eyeful

Shane’s Last Stand
by Ruth Jean Dale
(Harlequin, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN: 0-373-82592-7
There’s a certain poignancy built in to all of Harlequin’s “Heart of the West” series. After all, all of the heroes had, by definition, troubled youths or they wouldn’t have wound up at Lost Springs Ranch. All have overcome their bad beginnings, to some extent or another. Yet all carry baggage from the past that makes their ability to make commitments problematic. Shane Daniels, the bull riding champion of this latest installment, is no exception.

Abandoned by his mother and shuttled through a series of foster homes and institutions, Shane came to Lost Springs an angry boy with a chip on his shoulder. Only the promise of learning to be a cowboy led him to try to conform to the Ranch’s rules and regulations, but he was always willing to stand up to the inevitable bullies. He left Lost Springs at 18 to take a job at Big Tom Hoyt’s ranch in Bushwhack, Colorado. There he had his first glimpse of family life as he watched with envy Big Tom’s relationship with his 16-year-old daughter, Dinah. Big Tom became his surrogate father, the man he didn’t want to disappoint.

But Dinah grew up and the scruffy girl became a lovely young woman. First Shane became her protector then, perhaps inevitably, her lover. But he always felt guilty about their relationship. A fight with Dinah combined with news that Big Tom was looking for him led Shane to high tail it out of Bushwhack.

Now, ten years later, Bushwhack wants him back. Their annual Pioneer Days festival has fallen on hard times and having the world champion bull rider as grand marshal of the parade and performing in a bull riding exhibition will go a long way to reviving its popularity. So the town fathers, hearing of the bachelor auction, gathered together enough money to “buy” Shane. And they want Dinah to go to Wyoming and convince Shane to come “home” to Bushwhack.

Dinah wants no part of the assignment. Yes, this is a “secret baby” book. After Shane left, Dinah discovered she was pregnant. Then, her father died of a massive heart attack. A desperate Dinah came to depend on her father’s friend and neighbor, Mike Anderson, a quiet, older man. When Mike discovered her condition, he married Dinah and raised her daughter, B.D. as his own. But Mike died of cancer three years earlier and Dinah has struggled to raise her daughter and run her ranch. She does not need complications from the past.

There is nothing new or startling in this presentation of this tried and true plot. But Dale has created an attractive hero who has never really had a home, does not want to be a “hometown” hero, but who is a kind and honorable fellow who will do his duty and go along. That his visit to Bushwhack will place him in close proximity to the first woman he loved is an added attraction which he hopes to make the most of.

Given its hackneyed plot, Shane’s Last Stand is a surprisingly enjoyable book. Dale writes very well, provides a nice backdrop by painting the realities of ranch and rodeo life without romanticizing them, and offers a few humorous moments to lighten the mood. Ruth Jean Dale delivers a nice addition to the “Heart of the West” series.

--Jean Mason

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