Can't Resist A Cowboy by Jo Leigh
(Harl. American #768, 3.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-16768-7
***
This contemporary ranch story opens with a wonderful scene in which three sisters, discussing the youngest sister's engagement, betray their very different perspectives of the family in which they all were raised. As the oldest of five sisters, I can confirm that Jo Leigh caught exactly the flavor of frustration and compassion that characterizes these family conferences where everyone remembers a different past.

The oldest sister, Taylor, remembers their childhood on an Arizona ranch with bitterness and is determined to stay as far away from that life as possible. The middle sister, who is now running the family ranch with her husband, is happy and wants to support the youngest sister in her desire to marry a cowboy. The two younger sisters want Taylor to get to know the young man in question and persuade her to spend an upcoming vacation at the ranch where he works.

Taylor is convinced that the unhappiness she remembers in her past was the fault of her cowboy father and the cowboy just like him who broke her heart. She has fashioned a new life for herself as a political reporter for a Houston newspaper, and she thinks that the best way to prove to her sisters and the world that cowboys and ranches are inimical to women is to use this vacation to write an article that will expose the "Cowboy Myth" as false advertising.

The ranch she is visiting belongs to the none-too-hospitable Zach Baldwin, cowboy hero in the flesh. Zach has had some bad experiences with women starting with the mother who abandoned him and is certain that women have no place on a ranch. He has established a feudal community on his ranch where young men in trouble are given a chance to learn a trade and straighten out their lives.

As the alpha male, he commands their loyalty and respect, but foresees nothing but trouble if he has to compete for their attention with a beautiful woman. The only woman he tolerates is his aunt Pearl, part owner of the ranch and the woman who raised him. It is Pearl who invited Taylor to stay, partly out of affection for the engaged couple, and partly in the vague hope that Zach might show some interest.

Well, of course both of them show some interest, and are each appalled that they do. The last thing Taylor thinks she wants is a guy just like Dad, except that Zach proves over and over that he is NOT just like Dad. Zach, too, is forced to acknowledge that Taylor is not the kind of woman his mother was. Ultimately, both decide to abandon their comfortable but limited versions of the past and rethink the reasons for their own unhappiness, discovering when they do that happiness is something they can fashion together.

This was, in many ways, a feel-good story. The characters are attractive, and the plot is firmly centered on the growth and development of a couple who want to be together, if they can just get past their own self-imposed limitations. I felt a few times that the author's writing was not quite up to demands of her vision. There were places where the dialogue didn't "sound" quite right, or where the psychology seemed a little heavy-handed. Also, much as I love a good ranch story, I'm starting to need something a little unusual in the characters or plot to keep my interest. This story was a tad predictable.

Those caveats aside, I would certainly try something by this author again. If you like ranch stories and haven't read too many-try this one: it's a good place to start.

--Bev Hill


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