Lover's Reunion

The Pregnant Princess

Rancher's Proposition
by Anne Marie Winston
(Silh. Desire #1322, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-373-76322-0
If you haven't yet gotten your fill of cowboy heroes who use curse words like "heck" and "gosh" and shrinking violet heroines whose neediness and fragility are major turn-ons for their cattle roping buckaroos, then you might enjoy Rancher's Proposition more than I did. Even though the aforementioned plot device doesn't happen to be a favorite of mine, I'm still able to become engrossed in such a story line if the characters and situations are engaging. I didn't find this to be the case with Anne Marie Winston's latest release.

Cal McCall is in need of a housekeeper and Lyn Hamill needs a roof over her head, so Lyn moves from the women's shelter (where she lived after her abusive ex husband died) to Cal's ranch. Lyn is grateful to the handsome rancher for taking her in and giving her a job, so she strives to do everything possible to please him and make his life comfortable. Cal is grateful for all of Lyn's hard work and finds himself growing more and more attached and attracted to her.

Eventually Cal gives into his desires and he and Lyn spend a passionate night together. Only now that he has had her, he doesn't want another man usurping his place in her bed. Cal decides that the best way to keep Lyn by his side is to marry her.

One of the major problems with Rancher's Proposition is that the protagonists don't stir your empathy. It is especially aggravating to feel this way when one of the lead characters - the heroine - is a survivor of spousal abuse. As a reader, you want to root for such a person. You want to see her evolve into a tough woman who takes control of her life instead of remaining a wilted lily. This transformation never takes place in Lyn. She has always been, currently is, and shows every inclination towards remaining, needy and weak.

Even the way the author physically describes the heroine brings to mind images of a child. Passages such as "Her wrist felt so fragile beneath his big hand that he was sure one careless move would break a bone" smacks of weakness and a childlike delicateness.

The hero isn't much better. Where Lyn is weak and needy, Cal comes across as just plain stupid. He misinterprets the heroine's actions to the point of getting on your nerves. If Lyn shudders with longing, Cal thinks his presence annoys her, when she whimpers in his arms during a session of almost lovemaking, Cal thinks she is having an adverse reaction to it. (And so on and so on.) These misunderstandings grow old quickly and only serve to make Cal look like a bumbling idiot.

Unfortunately, the lack of empathy inspired by the characters is not waylaid by an intriguing plot. Simply stated, Rancher's Proposition is dull. The majority of the book's scenes consist of narratives that depict the daily life on a ranch. Buying a horse at auction, a fire on the prairie, canning tomatoes, shoveling hay, nursing sick calves back to health, feeding the barn animals...good grief, I was bored.

The only aspects of Rancher's Proposition that are recommendable are the consummation scenes. In this area, Winston kicks butt and takes names. Although there are a few of these scenes, they are all jammed together toward the end of the book, making it necessary to read all those hay shoveling and tomato canning scenes to get there. The sex scenes save this category romance from a one heart rating, but in the end they aren't enough to make this book worth its $3.99 price tag.

--Tina Engler

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