has also reviewed:

The Cowboys: Buck

The Cowboys: Ward

Just What the Doctor Ordered

The Cowboys: Sean
by Leigh Greenwood
(Leisure, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4490
I have enjoyed my previous excursions to "the West according to Greenwood." The author has a way of combining a realistic recreation of the era with a compelling romance. I can't say that I didn't enjoy the latest episode in his "The Cowboys" series. But I must admit that it didn't draw me in the way Jake and Ward did. I liked the premises, both the older woman/younger man and the falling in love with the "wrong kind of woman" plotlines. But some niggling problems with the story keep me from recommending Sean wholeheartedly.

First, the story. Sean O'Ryan is one of the eleven orphans adopted by Jake and Isabelle in the first novel in the series. In the prologue, we see him in an orphanage as his aunt, his only surviving relative, refuses to take him because a child would interfere with her "career" as a dancer and actress. (I must admit that I found the use of the word career in this and other places just a bit jarring.) We also meet the heroine in the prologue as her father warns her not to be taken in by the smooth-talking riverman and warns her that if she leaves, she can never come back.

Fifteen years later, the two meet in the gold fields of Colorado. Sean is a miner, determined to wrest enough gold out of the hills to buy himself a fine ranch in Texas. The heroine, now known as Pearl Belladonna, owns the best saloon in the boom town of Twisted Gulch. The beauteous Pearl is the belle of the town, both because her place serves decent food and good liquor and because she is a most talented singer and dancer. Sean has not joined in the chorus of praise for the saloon-keeper. In fact, he has stayed away from town.

But after hearing his partner and foster brother babble on about her beauty, Sean decides to visit The Silken Lady. And he walks into a mess.

Pearl has a problem. The man who seduced and abandoned her all those years ago Rock Gregson has shown up in Twisted Gulch. He wants her to let him gamble at her place, gambling she knows will be crooked. When she refuses, he sends in bully boys to break the place up. Sean, a red-haired giant of six foot, six inches, wades into the fight and soon has the culprits on the run.

Pearl is every bit as lovely as Pete said and she is charming to the young man who has just saved her saloon. But in Sean's eyes, she is one of "those women" and he makes his feelings all too clear.

This might have ended their relationship, except that Rock wants Sean's gold and he wants Pearl to help him get it. Since he knows about Pearl's daughter and threatens to reveal to the protected girl what her mother really is, Pearl is forced to go along.

This is the problem I had with the plot. Rock is new in town; Pearl is a much loved figure. I simply didn't buy the idea that Pearl had no recourse but to go along with Rock's nefarious schemes. But of course, without this there wouldn't have been a romance.

And the romance is very well done. Pearl is a "fallen woman" but not a "loose woman." She sings and dances, but she doesn't sell herself. But social convention determines that she is not respectable and she is certainly not the kind of woman that Sean intended to fall in love with. But fall in love he does.

For her part, Pearl has accepted the fact that she can never marry and must take care of herself, depending on no one. She never expected to fall in love with anyone, least of all a younger man who doesn't approve of women like her. But fall in love she does. Yet she can imagine no happy ending for their love, especially since she has been forced to cooperate with Rock's schemes.

I imagine that readers who have been following "The Cowboys" series will enjoy Sean very much as will fans of the kind of gritty and realistic western romances that Greenwood does so well. So while Sean doesn't quite meet my criteria as a "recommended" read, it is nevertheless a most acceptable western romance.

--Jean Mason

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