The Cowboy Fling by Dawn Atkins
(Harl. Tempt. #871, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-25971-9
***
This book is about a woman who has an MBA. Apparently she got it by sending a matchbook cover to the Acme Correspondence School. This is one of those books that thinks the only funny romance heroine is a dumb romance heroine.

Lacey Wellington doesn’t want a “little frou frou marketing job” at Wellington Restaurant Corporation, the family business run by her brother, Wade. She wants respect and she wants a position in Corporate Acquisitions. To earn them, MBA in hand, she demands to be sent to the “most backwater, least profitable” of all the company’s Arizona restaurants. Which is how she ends up in the middle of nowhere at the Wonder Café and Amazatorium.

The Wonder Café is the roadside greasy spoon where her Uncle Jasper serves bad food (he’s really a sculptor). The Amazatorium is one of those little tourist traps where he displays things like a pyramid of gopher skulls, a six-foot-tall tumbleweed, a stuffed two-headed bobcat, and a live python decked out in aluminum foil scales and billed as The Thing. These very real comic possibilities go largely unexplored, however.

Instead, without her brother’s knowledge, and using her own trust fund money, Lacey plans to turn the decrepit café into the Wonder Coffeehouse, a Mecca of exotic coffees, fabulous desserts and entertainment (poetry readings and folk singers) that people will flock to from miles around.

Lacey’s other idea is to kick over the traces by having a hot fling with the hunky cowboy who works at the ranch across the road (finally Lacey has a good idea). Unfortunately for Lacey, the “cowboy” is a former accountant with Wellington Foods who has been assigned by her brother to keep an eye on her while she gets this nutty respect-earning thing out of her system.

Max is also looking to change his life. He became a CPA to please his father but would really rather be working with his hands. Now that his father has passed away, Max is giving up accounting and going into construction. He’s just doing Wade a favor on his way through.

Okay, for the sake of argument, we’ll pretend to believe that people really might drive half an hour to the middle of nowhere for a cup of mint chocolate chip coffee and a poetry reading, instead of walking two blocks to the nearest Starbuck’s where they could drink it in peace. Lacey keeps telling us she’s done her homework, so maybe she knows something we don’t.

Wade is a good guy, and clearly fills out a pair of jeans quite nicely for an accountant. There is also some engaging sexual tension between Max and Lacey as she tries her darndest to get him into bed and he struggles with his conscience because he’s not being straight with her. And the premise is nice - a young woman learns that self-respect is a lot more important than the opinions of other people.

But the author takes away everything that would allow us to believe in Lacey’s victory. All, apparently, to make Lacey “funny.” Lacy claims she knows what she’s doing, but she put together the budget for the renovation without knowing what building supplies she was going to need. When Max, who says he’s just “good with numbers”, tells her she’s undercapitalized, and that there are mistakes in her math, and that the plumbing and wiring aren’t up to her plans, she gripes about his sad lack of vision. And when he cooks the books to hide the extra money he came up with, she doesn’t notice. Her incompetence is so hilarious, I can hardly stop laughing.

Because this is Romance Land, the problems magically disappear. Lacey doesn’t succeed on her own merit - she is tricked into believing it by Max and Wade who race in and secretly save the day, then pat her on the head and tell her what a good girl she is. Um… way to go, Lacey.

I’d have enjoyed this book much more if Lacey really had been the smart one.

--Judi McKee


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