Cowgirl Be Mine by Elaine Nichols
(Silh.Sp. Ed. #1428, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24428-2
***
Cowgirl Be Mine is the debut romance from Elaine Nichols, and it features a premise thatís fairly rare in category romance: a heroine whoís suffered a traumatic, and permanent, injury. Mandy Thompson is a rodeo rider - bull rider, to be exact. On the night when she hopes to make the ride of her life and reach a big rodeo finals, she spies Jake Miller in the stands. Jake, her teenage love, whom she hasnít seen in ten years. Mandy doesnít have much time to ponder Jakeís sudden reappearance before she has to climb aboard and ride. When the bull drops dead beneath her, Mandy loses her leg below the knee.

Three months later, Mandy is out of rehab and determined to ride in the rodeo again. First she needs a place to stay, and her brother comes up with the perfect place - a ranch-style cottage thatís been retrofitted for handicapped access. Mandy is delighted, until she discovers that Jake owns the house, and lives on the premises. No way can she stay in a house that Jake owns.

Jake, thinking fast, tells Mandy that sheíd be doing him a favor by renting the house, as he really needs the money. Mandy relents, and moves in. Now they must confront the baggage from their past in order to build a future.

Thereís a fine line that is often crossed when writing a heroine who is strong-willed, and Mandy crossed it for me. ďPrickly, stubborn, and careless of Jakeís feelingsĒ might better describe her. She left Jake because he was tied to his family and she wanted a rodeo career. Why? Well, her dad was a rodeo man, but since thereís little love between them, it doesnít hold up as much of a motivation. When she gets hurt, her goal is to return to the rodeo. Again, why? This ends up being a bone of contention between her and Jake, with the climax nothing more than a big misunderstanding based on the fact that these two donít talk to each other honestly. Or at least, Mandy doesnít.

And Jake, who is genial and easygoing, canít win around Mandy. When he tries to help her out, she lashes out at him, over and over. Even Jake grows weary of it. At one point, he tells her

"Everyone has to grow up sometime, Mandy.Ē

And maybe, in a nutshell, thatís the big problem I had with Mandy. I donít mind reading about characters who grow, but I donít really want to read about twenty-seven-year olds who need to grow up.

Some elements of the story were inconsistent, too. Mandy apparently is a freelance writer who makes enough money to have been living in an expensive apartment when she gets hurt, but how this jives with chasing the rodeo circuit isnít explained. Itís never mentioned again, so the question of how sheís supporting herself isnít addressed. Since she's so determined not to take a penny from Jake, it left a hole in the story.

Jake, however, is quite a charmer. Heís kind, decent, has loads of sex appeal, and he treats Mandy like a queen. He also prods Mandy to re-examine her life and pushes more than a few home truths at her. Eventually, Mandy does grow up, but it may not be much fun for the reader to watch her do it, and my sympathies were all with Jake.

I appreciated the storyline of a disabled heroine. Thereís a sub-plot involving a riding program for the disabled that gets quite a bit of page space, and itís put to good use.

Cowboy Be Mine has a few bumps, but its clever premise and cheerfully amiable hero smooth tem considerably. All in all, a respectable first effort from an interesting new author.

--Cathy Sova


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