Letter to a Lonesome Cowboy
by Jackie Merritt
(Silhouette Special Ed. #1154, $4.25, PG) 0-373-24154-2
***
Letter to a Lonesome Cowboy is the first book in a new series from Silhouette - Montana Mavericks: Return to Whitehorn. I'm not sure if it would have made a difference in my enjoyment of the book if I read the author's books in the previous series, Made in Montana. In this book, there were obvious references to previous plotlines, but for the most part, they added rather than detracted from the current story. I would have been lost without some of the information. But therein lies one of the pitfalls of coming in late to the party, or rather, in the midst of an ongoing story. One can but hope that the current storyline will hold its own. Unfortunately for Letter to a Lonesome Cowboy, while it had a good romance going, its storyline did not appear to thrive without its predecessors.

Lonesome Cowboy doesn't start out under the big sky of Montana, but rather in Baltimore in a small apartment. Suzanne Paxton is an unemployed bookkeeper (victim of corporate downsizing) with sole care and custody of her 14 year old brother, Mack. She was married when they lost their parents, but the addition of a troublesome teenager to the marriage gave Suzanne's dead-beat husband an excuse to exit: stage left. Things are very tight financially, Suzanne is at her wit's end about what to do, and I'm afraid she's feeling a bit sorry for herself.

She's not the only one. Mack realizes he's heading for big time trouble, but the conflicting emotions of teenage wisdom cloud his decision making. He finds an advertisement in a filched western magazine:

"If you're a single lady between twenty-five and thirty, honest, clean, a non-smoker and reasonably attractive, write to this Lonesome Cowboy. Kincaid Ranch, Box 16, Whitehorn, Montana."

Mack doesn't think twice about answering the advertisement for his sister, and enclosing a "suitable" photograph. Unfortunately, it's not a photograph of her, and Mack doesn't understand why Suzanne is not thrilled with the reply from the Lonesome Cowboy, Rand Harding. The next conflict between the siblings drives him straight out the door with half their savings and a ticket to Montana. He's going to live his little boy dream of being a cowboy, no matter what the cost.

Out on the Kincaid Ranch, it's springtime in Montana. The foreman, Rand Harding, has no idea that more than a blizzard is blowing his way. He's got his hands full enough already with a strange series of accidents and pranks which include cattle mutilations and a missing case of dynamite. Plus his ranch hands are disappearing on an almost daily basis. He hires a mysterious stranger, J. D. Cade, and if you don't read very carefully, you'll miss the one sentence that tells you who J. D. might be. J. D.'s identity is one of the issues that remained unresolved at the end of the book, as well as the acts of malicious sabotage against the Kincaid Ranch. The author points you in the general direction of the bad guy, but never reveals him, or why. Again, you get one little sentence... I almost missed it.

Rand is a good, strong main character, but is sometimes a little too distracted by the goings on at the ranch to nourish his growing relationship with Suzanne. She'd arrived with the first gusts of a blizzard, seeking her runaway brother, and conveniently settled in to replace the missing cook and bookkeeper. She already had an opinion formed about the sort of man that would place a personal ad, and definitely knows what a bad marriage can be like. Rand, too, has opinions about marriage - but they're based on his being left at the altar. Their sexual attraction to each other is instant and honest, but they could really use just 5 minutes of peace and quiet to talk things over.

One would think that being snowed in by a blizzard would give Rand and Suzanne ample opportunity to reach an understanding, and eventually they do. But the various other plots and sub-plots of the storyline interfered just a tad too much. In the end, I found that to have those plots left unresolved, was as distressing as if there had been no "happy ending."

--Julia S. Sandlin


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