The Last Good Man

The Last True Cowboy

A Mother's Gift

Night Falls Like Silk

The Night Remembers

Once Upon a Wedding

Something Worth Keeping

Sunrise Song

A View of the River

What the Heart Knows

You Never Can Tell

Ride a Painted Pony
by Kathleen Eagle
(Mira, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-7783-2359-5
I have enjoyed Kathleen Eagle’s books in the past and had no difficulty sticking with this one till the end. The romance is sweet and satisfying; the hero is easy to like and admire. But, oh, that TSTL heroine...! Lauren Davis is a former top-ranked thoroughbred racing jockey. She became involved with shady businessman Raymond Vargas and had a child, Joey, by him. She believed he had no interest in the toddler so when she planned on leaving Vargas, she was surprised by his reaction: she could go but Joey stayed with him. Vargas has one of this thugs take Lauren out to kill her, but Jack couldn’t go through with it and dumps Lauren in the middle of nowhere.

Lauren (called “Joey” by Nick) has no money, no family, nowhere to go. Her only goal is to be reunited with her son, but she knows Vargas believes her dead so she has to keep a low profile.

Nick feels responsible for Joey since she’s hurt and can’t just abandon her so takes her along when he picks up a Paint stud. It’s his dream to reestablish Sitting Bull’s herd of horses. Joey seems to be unusually knowledgeable about horses and good at handling them so he doesn’t resist when she insists on staying with him.

Lauren’s got her secrets; Nick’s got his dream. Can they possibly have a future together?

I have great sympathy for anyone who has lost a child and could easily understand Joey/Lauren’s emotional trauma. But her subsequent actions (or lack thereof) seem downright stupid.

One: Why doesn’t she call the cops? Vargas’s denying her access to her own son (ignoring the attempted murder aspect) is kidnapping. Moreover, she has reasons to believe he’s a gangster. The FBI would probably be interested in him. Call me excessively practical and possibly unromantic, but there are reasons our tax dollars go to support the FBI and keeping babies safe in their mommy’s arms is one of them.

Two: She has the Gothic heroine mentality on steroids. It’s a complete mystery how she thinks that some convoluted racing/gambling scam is going to bring down Vargas and restore her child. Her plot is both wrongheaded and sketchily described. It’s hard to figure out just how her plot is supposed to work, why she thinks the shrewd Vargas would fall for it, or if he does fall for it, how this is going to get Joey back.

This woman needs a keeper. Fortunately, in Nick she’s got one. Unfortunately for him, he’s got her.

Nick Red Shield is one of those strong, silent type heroes. He’s worked hard all his life and remained true to his principles. He has the love and esteem of his close friends and family. He’s overly trusting and unsuspicious when it comes to Joey, but in a hero a soft heart isn’t necessarily a fault. They seem to be mismatched; nevertheless, they fall in love gradually and convincingly.

Several threads are woven through the main plot: Indian casino gambling, illegal sports gambling, horse breeding, horse racing. The narrative flows easily and kept my interest and attention throughout.

The TSTL heroine and her questionable reasoning keeps Ride a Painted Pony from receiving a recommendation. If, however, you’re willing to overlook the big gaps in the plot logic, the sympathetic characters and the sweet romance could make this book a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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