A Cowboy's Heart by Liz Ireland
(Harl. Historical #466, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29066-7
****
While far from earth shattering, I enjoyed reading A Cowboy's Heart for pure pleasure. Here's a romance that doesn't take itself too seriously, and treats its readers to a nice, disarming blend of true romance and lighthearted Western silliness. The author throws a wink or two the readers' way, and the cutie on the cover had me dreaming of cowboys for a week!

Will Brockett is a cowhand and the sometimes sheriff of Possum Trot, Texas, a squalid little burg (a poor man's Lonesome Dove) that seems to consist of only about five inhabitants. The region's reigning beauty, Miss Mary Ann Redfern, is Will's girlfriend, and the woman who has just shocked the territory by marrying the "toothless old whiskey man," Oat Murphy.

With Will returning to Possum Trot after months on the trail, his self-proclaimed best friend, Paulie Johnson, is worried how he'll take the news. Since Paulie is really Paulette, she is secretly glad that Mary Ann has taken herself off the market. A tomboy who fits right in with men who frequent her saloon, Paulie is beginning to think maybe a little feminine allure would improve her chances with her suddenly available best friend. She barely has time to don one of her late mother's ancient dresses before Will arrives home and learns that Mary Ann is not only married, but that her husband has up and lost her.

Being that he's the sheriff and the murderous renegade Night Bird is on the prowl, Will decides to head off in search of Mary Ann. Her none-too-enthusiastic husband Oat comes along for the ride, as do Paulie and her faithful sidekick Trip.

It's a rather silly, muddled journey all in all – the gang encounters Night Bird not once, but twice, meets up with the famed purveyor of law "West of the Pecos" Judge Roy Bean, and finds themselves in a number of scrapes all in an effort to rescue a young lady who has no desire to saved. In the midst of this mildly slapstick series of events, Will begins to gain an entirely new appreciation for Paulie. Granted, he thought she looked ridiculous tending bar in her mother's old wedding dress, but it did remind him of Paulie's gender. What's more, she starts talking to him about love in such a way that Will can only conclude that Paulie has fallen hard and fast…for Trip – the forty year old klutz who works in her bar.

Far from being the brightest bulb in the lamp, Will makes a habit of second guessing Paulie's words and deeds to an almost annoying degree. Still, he's so good-natured you can't help but forgive him. He's full of bravado about "doing the right thing" as far as Mary Ann is concerned, but he'd long ago figured out what a selfish creature the beauty was. Now Paulie…she's no stunner, but she cleans up real nice.

A Cowboy's Heart is quick paced, breezy, and reminiscent of cowboy poet Baxter Black's comedic imagery. Nothing is taken too seriously, although the reader does get a good dose of chemistry between Paulie and Will. Will's wakening awareness of Paulie as a woman is both funny and endearing, as are Paulie's attempts to "feminize" herself. The fact that it is the latter that always seems to be saving the former from various life threatening scrapes, provides an a nice dose of irony.

Give A Cowboy's Heart a try if you're looking for some early beach reading!

--Ann McGuire


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