After the Kiss

The Bodyguard

Captive

Heartbeat

I Promise

 
The Cowboy by Joan Johnston
(Dell, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-440-22380-6
***
I really don’t know what to make of this book. On the one hand, it kept my interest; I read it in one sitting. One the other hand, its plot and characters seemed so stereotypical and predictable that I actually became annoyed. So I’m taking the coward’s way out and rating it as an “acceptable” romance. You decide if you want to read it after hearing about the story.

First of all, this is a dreaded “secret baby” story. Yes, my friends, while they were both studying at the University of Texas, Trace Blackthorne and Callie Creed became lovers. This was not a wise move, since the Creeds and the Blackthornes had been feuding for generations, ever since the first Blackthorne got hold of much of the Creeds land after the Civil War. The feud had heated up in recent years for two reasons. Blackjack Blackthorne wanted the Creed ranch, which sits right in the middle of the huge Blackthorne holdings. And Jesse Creed had married the woman Blackjack loved. So we have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet story as well.

Trace and Callie had thought to end the feud by marrying, but then disaster struck. Callie’s brother Sam was paralyzed in a football accident and the player who made the tackle was Owen Blackthorne, Trace’s brother. Naturally, the Creeds insisted it was no accident and Callie was forced to choose between her family and Trace. She chose her family, having always been taught to place their interests before her own wishes. Trace couldn’t understand her decision and stomped out of her life. Two months later, she married her father’s foreman, Nolan Monroe. Seven months later, her son Eli was born.

Now it is eleven years later. Nolan is dead; Blackjack has had a heart attack; and Trace, after wandering the world, has come home to help with the family’s extensive holdings. He’s also come home to see Callie Creed.

The story is eminently predictable, with few unexpected twists and turns. Callie has become the mainstay of the Creed family and the family has more than its share of troubles. The ranch is mortgaged, the cash flow is dreadful, and then real disaster strikes. Jesse is killed, supposedly by a stray hunter’s bullet. Now, the Creeds have to find millions of dollars to pay the inheritance taxes or lose the ranch.

Trace’s reappearance in Texas has shaken Callie’s equilibrium. Their first meeting proves to her that he has neither forgotten nor forgiven her. She lives in fear that he will discover Eli’s true parentage. Despite her marriage to the kind and caring Nolan, she knows that Trace is her one true love. Yet, her duty to her family and the old hatreds still exist to keep them apart.

Trace is unwilling to be shunted aside once again. When disaster again strikes the Creeds, he offers Callie a deal she can’t refuse: money to pay the taxes in exchange for their becoming lovers.

Trace is an ambiguous hero. On the one hand, he seems to want revenge. Witness the above deal. On the other hand, he seems like a nice guy, moving fast to help Callie and the Creeds when things get really bad. There are some nice scenes as he wins over Eli who has been taught to hate all Blackthornes and charms little Hannah.

Callie is the epitome of self-sacrifice. In fact, she’s so self-sacrificing, so perfect, that she’s almost hard to like. One sort of feels that she’s an enabler of all the dysfunctional behavior of all the Creeds.

Then, there are the Blackthornes: the overbearing Blackjack, the distracted artist mother, the guilt-ridden Owen, the wild sister Summer. Ah, life among the very, very rich ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Actually, the discovery of who killed Jesse Creed and why is one of the few surprises in the book.

The Cowboy has lots of interesting stuff about the ranching business, cutting horses, and life in Texas. What it doesn’t have is characters who really grabbed me, whom I really cared about. Yet, there is the fact that I read the book in one gulp, that it kept me turning the pages.

So, I am wracked with ambivalence about The Cowboy. This book is obviously the first in a series about the modern Blackthornes and Creeds. Will I follow the saga? Probably. Joan Johnston does know how to tell a story.

--Jean Mason


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