A Heart Untamed by Adrienne Burns
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12507-5
Published under Jove’s “Friends” banner -- “When it comes to matters of the heart, you can always trust your friends,” A Heart Untamed offers an amusing, heartfelt romance that manages to rise above convenient plot contrivances that could have sunk a lesser story. What saves A Heart Untamed is the strength of the hero and heroine, a memorable duo who lock horns and hearts at such a young age that they are destined for a lifetime of tempestuous love.

Race Jordan is Amy Baxter’s nemesis when the young woman is growing up. There are a few things Amy is sure of…that she will grow up and marry Carey McGraw and that Race Jordan was put on the earth to humiliate her. Little changes in the ten years following Race’s departure from Flint, Kansas.

Upon Race’s return in 1875, Amy is her same headstrong self -- marching around handing out orders, riding hell bent for leather and determined to keep her father’s ranch producing the best horseflesh in the state. She’s gotten her wish and is engaged to Carey McGraw, now the small town’s respected doctor. Always a tomboy, Amy’s dressing habits become more obvious to both herself and everyone else when her best friend Polly returns from school.

It is Polly who notices that Carey and Amy seem to treat each other as little more than brother and sister. It is also Polly who notices that sparks ignite each time Amy and Race come within 10 feet of each other. One short conversation with Carey confirms her suspicions -- the young doctor is engaged more or less because it has always been expected. He hates horses, has no desire to live on a farm, and thinks he and Amy would be better suited as friends. Getting Amy to understand that, however, is another story.

Both Polly and Carey are convinced that the headstrong young woman will never give up the dream she has desired for so long --- no matter the truth of her feelings for Carey or her burgeoning interest in Race. So together Carey and Polly set out to throw Amy and Race together as often as possible in order to fan the flame of their desire, thereby forcing Amy to break her engagement to Carey.

It sounds rather convoluted, but the strength of the chemistry between Amy and Race is such that it minimizes all the background shenanigans.

Authors Sherrie Eddington and Donna Smith, writing under the nom de plum Adrienne Burns, have created a couple with just the right spark. Race is exactly as his name implies -- a handsome charmer who catches the eye of many a lady -- both young and old. Race has returned to his childhood home nursing a secret and is shocked to discover that the little girl he used to tease has become such a self-assured, beautiful woman. Passionate and overprotective, Race quickly sees that Amy is the woman with whom he could spend eternity. Amy feels the same way, just has a little trouble admitting it to herself, until, of course, she and Race make love…and then well… you know how it goes.

Race and Amy truly make a wonderful couple -- two powerful, intelligent adults who embrace their sensuality and revel in their unbridled passion for one another. The chemistry between the two is the strongest element of the story, which lifts it above the aforementioned plot conveniences. There are others as well involving an orphaned child, a Chinese housekeeper, and a brutish neighbor. But mostly there is the always entertaining romance between Race and Amy -- a couple who, hopefully, will set the tone for all good things romantic to come in the new year.

--Ann McGuire

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