Beneath a Texas Moon
by Clara Wimberly
(Zebra Bouquet 30, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6458-6
Beneath a Texas Moon has a secret baby, a hero with a mighty big chip on his shoulder, a heroine who's ditzy when it comes to her own personal safety, an interfering father who's decided to atone for past sins by playing matchmaker and a weak suspense thread. Why, oh, why does this have to happen in Texas?

Five years ago, Jessica McLean and Diego Serrat were lovers, but her manipulating father offered Diego money to leave, compounding his deceit with the lie that Jessica had grown tired of Diego but didn't know how to break off the relationship. Diego spurned the money but left in a huff, never asking Jessica if the story was true.

Now Texas Ranger Diego Serrat is asked to guard a rancher and his family. The rancher is giving state's evidence against a baddie and has requested protection. Diego discovers that it's Jessica and her father, but he accepts anyway. Hey, nothing deters a Texas Ranger!

Almost immediately Diego meets four-year-old Tommy, his son. He's furious that Jessica never told him about the boy. Early on they discover her father's perfidy, and both realize that they've been laboring under false impressions for five years. Jessica is relieved that Diego didn't accept her father's offer of money, but Diego has an ax to grind.

For most of the story he belabors the point and harps that he can't trust Jessica any more. After all, she's the one who has kept Tommy's existence a secret. How unfair --wasn't she lied to, also? Wasn't she laboring under the impression that Diego had left her? Here's his answer when she questions Diego about believing her father.

"Of course I believed him. Why wouldn't I? A mixed breed kid, raised without a home, in love with the daughter of one of Texas's richest, most powerful men. By all rights, I was a loser, a kid with only a slim chance of being anything other than a migrant worker like my father. Yes, I believed him." Diego reiterates over and over and over that he can't trust her.

When Diego analyzes why Jessica has kept Tommy's existence a secret, he keeps coming up with the same reasoning. He just wasn't and still isn't good enough for the McLean family. By now I wanted to brain him. He was the one who left and never looked back. Considering the possibility of pregnancy, had it never entered his mind? It got really tiresome, this same song, second verse routine, his continuing tirades of how "Jessica done him wrong."

If Jessica or Diego's age is mentioned, I missed it. Something about Diego's age and experience nagged at me, so I did some brief research into the qualifications of being a Texas Ranger: "Each applicant must be a citizen of the United States of America, in excellent physical condition, and have an outstanding record of at least eight (8) years experience with a bona fide law enforcement agency engaged principally in the investigation of major crimes."

I also missed Diego's eight years of prior experience with a bona fide law enforcement agency. In short, I guess I was right to be concerned. Diego's age (or lack thereof) and prior experience (or lack thereof) do not add up to being a Texas Ranger. If it only took me five minutes to determine the qualifications, why wasn't basic research done?

Lest you think that I've got it in for Diego alone, let's discuss Jessica. She's been told that Diego and the contingent of law enforcement people are there to guard the McLeans against a ruthless criminal. So what does she do? Lies to the Rangers on duty and rides off on her horse. Naturally, she falls off her horse, injures herself and ends up stranded in the middle of nowhere. Two other episodes show her skirting the issue of safety, one with possibly tragic overtones.

Here's another plot line that seemed incongruous. The ranch is now guarded heavily against reprisals from the bad guy. A place you'd want to stay away from, right? So, guess who shows up -- Diego’s mother, wanting to meet her grandson. Would a Ranger in his right mind want his mother in such a dangerous situation?

Beneath a Texas Moon had too many plot holes and too many characters acting either too juvenile or imprudent. After a while, it became hard to sustain any interest in the story, even if it is set in Texas. And judgmental, embittered and resentful Diego is definitely not representative of the one hundred and seven lawmen who call themselves Texas Rangers.

--Linda Mowery

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