The Horseman’s Bride
by Marilyn Pappano
(Silh. Int. Mom. #927, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-07957-5
*****
The Horseman's Bride, the second in Marilyn Pappano's "Heartbreak Canyon" series, is a romance. It isn't a mystery-romance, it isn't a time-travel romance, it isn't a comic romance. Instead, it is the straightforward story of a man and a woman and their struggles to create a loving, trusting relationship…and isn't that what we're looking for when we read a romance?

Easy Rafferty has come home to Heartbreak, Oklahoma, a broken man…quite literally broken. After fourteen years on the rodeo circuit, his career as a calf-roper ended five months earlier when his truck crashed. His hip was shattered, his right hand maimed, and his face scarred in the crash. Now he can only walk haltingly with the aid of a cane; he will never rodeo again.

Shay Stephens is the girl he didn't leave behind. Three days before Shay was scheduled to marry Easy's best friend, Guthrie Harris, Easy persuaded her to run away with him. They traveled the rodeo circuit together for eight years before Easy left Shay in a "dirty little motel in Montana with nothing but my clothes and a wad of money." Shay came home to Heartbreak then, to manage the Heartbreak Café. Six painful years later, she knows that Easy is still the only man she'll ever love.

Even before the accident, Easy was tormented by the guilt he felt because he had stolen his best friend's bride. He knew, however, that he was physically beautiful, with a handsome face and an athlete's powerful, graceful body. Now, even that, the foundation of his self-image, is ruined. Now his outward appearance agrees with his inward reality.

Easy comes home to Heartbreak determined to live the life of a hermit in the ranch house where he grew up. Easy can't face the stares and the pity he knows his injuries will provoke. Easy hasn't been home 24 hours before the word gets out, and Shay learns that he is back. Shay has to decide whether to see Easy…he certainly isn't going to come to see her…and, if she does see him, whether to try to understand what went wrong between them six years ago.

The first decision is easy…in a small town like Heartbreak, her relatives and neighbors aren't going to give her any peace until she reports back on how Easy Rafferty is doing. Whether she can help him…whether she wants to help him…is a harder decision. Easy attacks her verbally as soon as he sees her and drives her off with insults that have enough truth in them to hurt badly.

Easy and Shay have a lot of old hurts…owies, as Guthrie's six-year-old daughter, Elly, calls them…to deal with, and Easy's grieving for his losses and his mistakes makes that process slow and difficult. The story of Easy’s struggle, and the obstacles Shay encounters in trying to help him, make for engrossing reading.

The Horseman's Bride is the second book in Pappano's Heartbreak Canyon series. Pappano laid down enough clues to allow me to deduce that Guthrie Harris and his wife, Olivia, are the subjects of the first book, Cattleman's Promise. I often find teasers like these annoying, but in this case they worked; my interest has been piqued.

Furthermore, I found myself assessing other, secondary characters for possible sequel material. Pappano's ability to keep my interest focused on the current story while provoking my curiosity in related works indicates that a sure hand is at the narrative controls.

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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