Dangerous Passions

The Dream

Fanning the Flame

The Fire Inside

Heartless

Midnight Sun

Hot Rain

Night Secrets

Perfect Sin

The Secret

Silk & Steel

 
Desert Heat by Kat Martin
(Zebra, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7381-X
***
I guess I’ll never understand how publishers pick titles for romance novels. Take Desert Heat, for example, which does not take place in the desert. Wouldn’t it be more descriptive to name it Rodeo Heat or something like that?

Patience Sinclair is happy to be leaving Boston for the summer touring with a rodeo. Tyler Stanfield, a former boyfriend, has been stalking her, and she’s glad to be getting away. She’s made arrangements to buy a travel trailer and share living quarters with Shari Wills, a rodeo barrel racer. Patience is writing her Ph.D. dissertation on some unspecified topic related to women in rodeos in the past and present. A relative has sent her a volume of her great-grandmother’s journal; Adelaide Whitcomb had been an early rodeo performer. As soon as she gets her degree, Patience will start work as assistant professor of history at a New England college.

Dallas Kingman is the current World Champion All-Around Cowboy. He takes an immediate dislike to Patience jumping to the conclusion that she’s another “buckle bunny” out to hook up with a rodeo star. Dallas’s uncle Charlie Carson is the owner of the rodeo company. Lately he’s had a run of bad luck both on the road and at home on his ranch in Texas. It seems to be coincidental, but it may jeopardize the future of the company. As it continues, it seems possible that Tyler Stanfield could be behind it.

Patience (called ‘P.J.’ by some members of the rodeo company) finds the rodeo life exciting and is unable to ignore Dallas’s appeal in spite of his cold manner towards her. Dallas slowly discovers there’s more to Patience than he’d first believed. As the rodeo company travels from rodeo to rodeo across the western United States, Dallas and Patience become involved. But how can a rodeo cowboy and a history professor have a future?

This is the second novel with one of the Sinclair sisters as the heroine, but it stands well on its own. What doesn’t fare so well is the course of the narrative. For much of the book, the story can be summarized as cowboys and cowgirls perform in a rodeo, the company hits the road, cowboys and cowgirls perform in another rodeo. The pace of the story bogs down quickly.

What does work well is the sexual tension. In spite of their first impressions and against their better judgment, Patience and Dallas are strongly attracted to each other.

She turned back to the arena just as a boot slammed down on the fence rail beside her. Spurs jingled, fringe slapped against a man’s long leg. She looked up and for an instant, she simply felt drenched in cowboy–there was no other way to describe it. It’s not hard to believe they’re really falling in love, not just lust. It’s gratifying when they move beyond their initial antipathy and the conflict between them becomes the basic differences between city girl and country boy. A secondary romance between Shari Wills and another rodeo cowboy underscores the theme – it’s not only the city girl heroine who is having trouble reconciling rodeo life to what she wants for the rest of her life.

The mystery subplot is another strong aspect of Desert Heat. It builds slowly and is better crafted than some in other romances. The identity of the bad guys isn’t telegraphed long in advance of the climactic scene.

In the final quarter of the book, the pace picks up, and Patience and Dallas shake off their stereotypical origins and come alive. The final resolution of their competing life styles is realistic and satisfying. It’s unfortunate the same energy isn’t present from the beginning because Desert Heat would be a much better book if it did. As it is, I predict that some readers will become bored and opt out before the good part. For those who don’t mind a long, slow start, this could be a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap


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