The Cowboy & the Shotgun Bride
by Jacqueline Diamond
(Harl. American #734, 3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-167734-2
***
The Cowboy & the Shotgun Bride is the first in a trilogy set in Grazier's Corners, California or Smalltown, USA. Mindy Neff comes next with A Bachelor for the Bride (# 739) and then Charlotte Maclay finishes with The Hog-Tied Groom (#743).

Thirty-one-year-old Kate Bingham, an elementary school principal, first sees Mitch Connery as he's being chased and shot at on Main Street in Grazier's Corners. He shields her from the bad guys, which is more than her fiancÚ, Moose Harmon, does. Kate takes a special interest in the scene; she's just been elected sheriff, an office she did not seek. Her fiancÚ put her on the ballot without her knowledge or permission. She's attracted to Mitch Connery, but he disappears just as suddenly as he appeared.

The second time that Kate sees Mitch, it's his photograph on a wanted poster. It seems he's killed a man.

The third time Kate sees Mitch is at her wedding. She spots him as she walks down the aisle and is perplexed to see him. The reason is apparent when the bad guys come storming into the church, looking for Mitch. He again shields her from the bad guys, unlike her fiancÚ, who is pretty much useless.

Kate's lace overskirt and Mitch's belt buckle get inextricably tangled. She finds herself escaping with him. Taking him to her house, she prepares to listen to his story. What a tale it is. Mitch has lost his Texas ranch to a swindler, he's being framed for murder, his cousin is a witness, but has run away and the cousin is the reason that Mitch is in Kate's town. Kate innately trusts and believes Mitch and surprises both of them with her offer to help Mitch find his cousin, in order to clear his name. Thus begins a multi-state odyssey.

Remember that this is the woman who's just left her fiancÚ at the altar. As the story continues, it's difficult to take her recriminations regarding Moose very seriously. They've had a tepid relationship at best. Mitch is able to bring Kate some long- awaited joy to her life. At least I think he does. Occasionally the writing is so lackluster that I supplied my own adjectives.

After a while, they carried their dishes inside, then went to collect the laundry. While folding it inside the camper, they kept bumping into each other until finally they gave up, tossed the clothes in the basket and made love.
You're asking yourself, "What's the problem?" Okay, this is only the second time they have been intimate. Wouldn't some more . . . descriptive embellishments have added spice?

I immediately liked Kate's reaction when she heard Mitch's blunt confession that he had killed a man. "I'm going to let you tell me about the mitigating circumstances, and explain who these bandits were and why you crashed my wedding." You've got to applaud a levelheaded approach like Kate's and not some screaming idiot who jumps feet first into the wrong conclusion.

What's refreshing and honest about this story is how these people, these mature people, treat each other with dignity and respect. There are no tantrums, no snits, no theatrics between the two of them. What's there is so much external melodrama that the story would have collapsed on itself with the addition of internal stress.

While this story has external conflicts, what it lacks is sexual tension. These people and their situation are mere words on paper, not characters who have stepped off the pages and are inviting me to participate in their adventures. The external tension level and the interest level go up and down like a yoyo. When Mitch and Kate aren't being ambushed by The Three Stooges of Gangsterdom, things are okay. But when these yokels appear, you can start humming the theme from Deliverance. This is another case of the bad guys being stooopid.

Music plays a secondary role and, in its own way, saves the day. There's a touching scene where Mitch serenades Kate, and another scene where we come to see how opera played a part in his heritage. Also, his proposal is somewhat musical. All of this leads me to my final thought about this story. I feel a great deal like Peggy Lee's famous song, Is That All There Is?

--Linda Mowery


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