After the Kiss

The Bodyguard


The Cowboy


I Promise

The Texan by Joan Johnston
(Dell, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-44023471-9
While reading The Texan, all I kept think was; Is this a romance novel or an episode of Dynasty? Between the secret babies, illicit affairs, murder conspiracies and stolen nerve gas mines, it was a tough call.

There is a blood feud between the Creeds and Blackthornes that dates back to the Civil War. The Creeds are struggling to survive after the death of their father Jesse, a death that was conspired by Eva Blackthorne. Eva is the wife of Jackson “Blackjack” Blackthorne, head of the Bitter Creek Ranch empire. The wounds are still fresh from this tragedy when eighteen year-old Luke Creed gets involved in the case of some missing VX nerve gas mines. Positive that Blackjack’s son Clay is guilty of the theft, Luke heads to Big Bend National Park to find proof and promptly disappears without a trace.

Enter Bayleigh Creed, Luke’s older sister. Bayleigh demands that Texas Ranger Owen Blackthorne, Clay’s twin brother, take her to Big Bend to find Luke. Owen does so reluctantly, and it’s easy to see why after a few chapters. Bayleigh is headstrong, that romance term for a woman who is too busy trying to get her own way and prove how independent she is to be the least bit sensible. They're barely on the trail two days when her "headstrong" nature manages to lose half their supplies, deplete their water supply and set off a tripwire. Then, despite her often-declared hatred for all things Blackthorne, Bayleigh has sex with Owen on their second night together. Oh, but she still doesn't trust him. This, of course, leads to Bayleigh doing the “I-despise-you-but-I-want-you” routine that is far too familiar.

Owen on the other hand is ready to challenge the families so he and Bay can be together. Huh? This is a woman who has made it clear she thinks he’s scum, reminds him at every opportunity of a mistake he made as a teenage that crippled her brother and has shown nothing but disdain for him up to this point. She slept with him though, that’s what made all the difference. Owen’s feelings may have been believable had they happened further along, once the two of them had gotten to know each other. At this point in the book though, it’s too soon.

As for the other characters, readers will be hard pressed to find a more dysfunctional bunch of people and most are familiar faces. Blackjack is the J.R. Ewing of the bunch and his wife Eva is the manipulative bitch who will stop at nothing to get revenge. The rest of the Creeds, Blackthornes and various permutations of the two are standard types, all who have some secret past or grievous wrong they can't seem to forgive. One of the few exceptions is Bad Billy Coburn. He’s probably had the worst life of them all, and he’s the only one that doesn't wallow in it. His character has a certain strength and dignity hidden beneath his bad boy attitude that really makes the reader pull for him. Unfortunately, his storyline is totally predictable.

After the third or fourth repetition of all the bad stuff the Blackthornes have done, the whole thing gets tiresome. While there are legitimate reasons for the bad blood against the Blackthornes, other reasons are lame. For example, the nefarious deed of Owen’s older brother Trace…..who had the nerve to fall in love with Bay’s sister Callie and marry her. God forbid! Everyone, with the possible exception of Luke, should have been mature and intelligent enough to stop the blind hatred of people because of who their ancestors were. The family feud as a source of conflict soon becomes a bit forced.

Speaking of forced, there is the whole business about Bayleigh and her college papers. Bay knows several helpful facts because she conveniently “wrote a paper about it” in college. It was such a contrived plot device.

Despite the problems with the book, there is no doubt that Joan Johnston writes well. Her description of desolate western Texas makes you thirsty just reading it. She also has Bay, who is a veterinarian, compare certain characters to the type of dog they resemble. For example, an FBI agent that looks like a Doberman. The comparison brings a vivid picture of the character to mind without very much description at all. She also moves the story along well and keeps the reader interested, especially with the mystery surrounding the nerve gas hijacking. It’s just a shame she didn't use that talent to write something we haven't all read before.

The Texan, with all its mystery and intrigue, is definitely a page-turner, but it reads more like a prime-time soap opera than a romance novel.

--Anne Bulin

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