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Texas Tender by Leigh Greenwood
(Leisure, $6.99, PG) ISBN 08439-5685-2
Texas Tender is one of the “Cowboy” series featuring the youngest brother, Will Haskins. Raised as an orphan and taken in by Jake and Isabelle, he often refers to them and his brothers throughout the story. None of them make an appearance and this is just one thing that keeps this story from being fully recommended.

Will travels from the Texas hill country to Dunsmore, Texas to buy a bull. This bull will be the start of his own ranch, finally allowing him to move from his parents place at age 29. Will is drop dead gorgeous and often has women falling in love with his looks without ever really knowing the man. He is also a tad spoiled, having been the last of a dozen foster children and the only one left at home. But Will feels he has more depth, if people would just let him alone.

Idalou Ellsworth and her brother, Carl, own the bull Will is trying to buy. The Ellsworths are trying to keep their head above water to keep their ranch, and selling the bull is their only hope. The ranch is nestled next to the only water source in the area, smack dab in the middle of two larger neighboring ranches. On the one side is the McGloughlins – whose daughter Mara is only 17 and attracted to Carl. In fact, Carl wants to marry her. The McGloughlins had an older son who got killed trying to ride a wild stallion – he was engaged to Idalou until he fell for a new girl just come to town. On the other side is the Sonnenbergs. Their son, Van, is a mean cowboy who has allowed his social status to go to his head. The two fathers have hopes that Van and Mara will marry, uniting their lands. But Carl and Idalou stand in the way.

The Ellsworth’s loan is almost due and the only way to pay it is to sell the bull. Now Will has come to buy it, but the bull is missing. Idalou is convinced the McGlouglins are behind the theft but since she has been accusing them of wrongdoing for years, no one really listens. The entire tale revolves around the search for the bull and some other signs of sabotage that come up to keep Idalou and Carl from meeting their commitment. To make matters interesting, several town council members convince Will to become their sheriff. Now he is deeply involved in the mystery, even as he fights his attraction to Idalou, who is the only woman he has met who hasn’t been bowled over by his looks.

As you might guess by that, Idalou is rather a shrew. Despite the fact that we are treated to her thoughts and feelings, she is never completely likable. She argues, accusing people of underhandedness. Even Will gets the treatment more often than not. Will, on the other hand, is the epitome of fair-mindedness and being laid back. He is not all that interesting, making it hard to fell strongly about him. The two have a romance that has no heat until the end and isn’t very engaging. Many of the secondary characters, while immature due to their age, at least act with passion. Will and Idalou just seem to mosey along at a snail’s pace and spend plenty of time hashing and rehashing their feelings and attraction. The story tends to plod along at the same snail’s pace.

If you like westerns, this is tepid, even though there are plenty of ranchers. If you like romance, this is tepid due to the pace and lack of steam. Texas Tender is one of those stories that is passable, but that is about it.

--Shirley Lyons

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