Saddled by Delores Fossen
(Love Spell, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-505-52430-9
Abilene Donegan has many problems that need fixing, and to her way of thinking, Rio McCaine is just the man for the job. Having recently escaped from Apache renegades, Abbie wants Rio to help her track them down to rescue another woman, Harmony, who didnít get away. She also has her recently deceased fatherís former mistress living at the family home, and an amorous suitor who still wonít leave her alone even given the fact that she is now ďruined.Ē As I said, the girl has many problems. So she tracks down Rio and makes him an offer he canít refuse - marry her, help her out, and she will provide the funds to rescue his bankrupt family ranch.

Rio is half-Comanche and sickened to learn that his odious half brother ran their fatherís ranch into the ground. Heís more than hesitant to marry Abbie, but when she promises him the ranch back, heís more than willing to help. Besides, the spitfire redhead that broke into a saloon to track him down intrigues him. But all is not what it seems, especially since there is more to Abbieís story than she is letting Rio in on, and soon the secrets and lies are going to come busting right out into the open.

Books like Saddled always depress me - mainly because they could be very good books if it were not for the irritating actions of the characters. Abbie is the sort of romance heroine that sets my teeth on edge. The reader knows right from the start (this includes the back cover copy) that Abbie is not letting Rio in on the whole story. A heroine who lies more often than telling the truth makes her incredibly hard to trust - and I didnít trust Abbie for even the briefest moment.

Rio is almost as equally as irritating as he knows that Abbie isnít being completely honest with him. So what does the guy do? Does he refuse to move an inch until she spills her guts? Does he confront her with his suspicions? Golly, of course not! Why would he do that? Instead, he goes along with her, being led around by his trousers the whole way.

This brings us to the main issue plaguing Saddled - the lack of trust between Abbie and Rio. With so many lies and omissions, it is hard to cultivate the necessary loyalty and trust that a romantic couple must have for the reader to buy the fact that they are falling in love. By the time Rio and Abbie ride off into the sunset, I was very convinced of their lust, but didnít see how they could truly be in love given all the deception.

As I said, Saddled depressed me, if only for the fact that there are many well done aspects to the story. While I wanted to smack Abbie repeatedly for her lying, it was refreshing to finally read about a heroine who wasnít a lady and didnít make any apologies for it. Rio is interesting in the fact that he is still vulnerable about his fatherís rejection and his ďhalf-breed, bastardĒ birth.

This story is also very funny in parts. The opening chapter when Abbie sneaks into the saloon is very well done, with plenty of witty dialogue. This made all the lying and misunderstandings even more frustrating. If you are the type of reader who can overlook such shortcomings, and are on the lookout for funny historicals, Abbie and Rio may just be the couple for you. Readers who arenít as forgiving should steer clear.

--Wendy Crutcher

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