Cowboy Courage by Judy Duarte
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1458, $4.50, G) ISBN 0-373-24458-4
New author Judy Duarte shows a lot of promise with Cowboy Courage, a story of an heiress and a cowboy finding love when they least expect it amid complications galore. However there are a few too many complications and a few too many clichés to wholeheartedly recommend this story.

Lauren Taylor has run from her fiancé when she discovers he is having an affair with her best friend. Daniel, the fiancé, is running for State Senator from California and Lauren would make the perfect politician’s wife…dedicated to charity work, obedient and polished. Upon discovering the affair, she takes off in her Expedition and heads east, ending up in the small town of Tannen, Texas. She meets Cole McAdams at a 1950s-style gas station and gets directions from him for somewhere to eat.

As she enters the Long Shot Bar and Grille, she is greeted by Kerri-Leigh, Cole’s sister, who is in the middle of a domestic disturbance. It seems her boyfriend is drunk and about ready to beat her up. Lauren helps Kerri escape, and Cole comes to the rescue just in time to keep Lauren from getting hurt. Since Kerri-Leigh has just taken off in Lauren’s car, Cole offers Lauren a ride, and they end up back at his ranch trying to beat a torrential downpour and flash flood. Lauren is forced to stay with Cole for a few days due to the main road being washed out. Sound a little convoluted? It is, but Duarte does a good job of making it seem believable.

Things continue to get more complicated for Cole and Lauren. They contend with Sandy, his ex-wife, who has recently returned wanting to establish a relationship with Beth, their five-year-old daughter. Sandy is a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser, who abandoned them when Beth was only an infant. Cole shares with Lauren his problems with custody and his reasons why he cannot forgive Sandy.

On top of that, Lauren is hiding from her ex-fiancé, who has put out word to the FBI that she was kidnapped. Even though she discovers this on the news, no one else in the town ever seems to see it except Sandy, who is willing to keep her secret. Cole is oblivious, even though he knows she is running from “something”. Then Lauren discovers some checks in her car signed by her best friend that point to illegal campaign contributions to Daniel. And now, to make things even more complicated, Beth is diagnosed with a brain tumor.

I had some difficulty accepting things on various levels. I grew to respect Cole for pulling himself together after the divorce and single-handedly raising his daughter. Lauren ran away to “discover herself” and break away from her life, which she describes as a place where everyone dictates all her actions to her. It was enjoyable watching her self-confidence grow. When together, these two sent sparks flying and seemed to connect on a purely basic level. Yet their actions were inconsistent with these very traits I admired. They didn’t talk about their feelings, they made lots of incorrect assumptions and seemed disconnected from the values they shared, like honesty.

The other characters are just as fickle. There is an aunt of Lauren’s who is described as “cold, disapproving and unloving.” Yet when she becomes a real part of the story, she is completely opposite. This is explained away by saying she only acted that way while Lauren was growing up to force Lauren to stand up for herself. I have a hard time believing that anyone could act unloving for Lauren’s entire upbringing, only to change overnight when Lauren finally does something of which she approves.

Sandy is another individual that has made a remarkable turnaround. She joined AA and is now a respectable member of the community, even though her entire past was made up of drinking, drug abuse and troublemaking. A typical small town, which Tannen is purported to be, doesn’t seem like the kind to just forgive and forget.

Judy Duarte showed skill in laying out her tale in an easy to read manner. Even with all these complications I was able to stay in touch with the story and hope everything turned out for the best. Duarte just needs to limit her plotlines to one or two rather than trying to get all her ideas into one story.

Cowboy Courage is a predictable novel, with some engaging pieces, many subplots and conveniently resolved issues.

--Shirley Lyons

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