Ride A Dark Horse by Laura Moore
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-04292-0
For those of you that are veteran romance readers, I’ll come directly to the point...skip this one. There isn’t a single romance cliché that hasn’t been dragged out of merciful retirement and inserted in this book.

If you’re new to the genre, you may not find this as annoying. Or, you may be interested in reading an example of what your mother’s (or perhaps, grandmother’s) romance reading was like.

As a horse trainer and rider, twenty-four year old Cassie Miller has an exceptional reputation. That’s why Hank Sawyer is interviewing the young trainer behind his partner, Caleb Wells, back. Caleb is a veterinarian with a specialty in equine medicine, and the breeder of Orion, a stallion with winning potential. If only they can find a trainer and rider that can stay on the high-spirited horse’s back.

Of course Cassie is a natural and Hank hires her on the spot. But why all the secrecy? It seems Caleb had a brief marriage that ended in a very nasty divorce, leaving Caleb with the opinion that women are good for only one thing. As Hank observes, “Caleb goes through women like they are disposable razors. Use ‘em and toss ‘em.”

Caleb will not be pleased that a WOMAN has been hired to ride his precious Orion. To make matters worse, during his divorce proceedings, a sympathetic judge awarded ownership of Orion to his ex-wife Pamela. This gives Caleb further incentive to make Orion a winner. Why? I have no idea. One would think Pamela’s ownership of Orion would be the impetus to make the horse a loser...not to work day and night to increase the horse’s value.

But, I digress. Cassie accepts the new job in Virginia, bringing along her perfectly adorable five-year old twins, Jamie and Sophie. The twins are actually the children of Cassie’s brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Lisa, who were killed in a traffic accident when the twins were eight months old. Cassie is their proud mom now.

When Caleb discovers Hank has hired Cassie, he’s livid. That is until he gets a look at her. Cassie is gorgeous, but she must be like all beautiful women, expecting a man to grovel at her feet. Well, he’ll show her...and proceeds to treat her like dirt, all the while trying to get her into his bed. After all, she’s dead sexy.

Cassie’s first impression of Caleb was pretty accurate. Arrogant SOB, insufferable moron and royal jerk were just a few of the descriptions floating through her head. But that static electricity problem that seems to pop up in some romances is infecting the stables, Cassie is “electrified” whenever she’s in Caleb’s presence. All she can think about is getting into “that jerk of a vet’s” bed. After all, he’s dead sexy.

And so it goes from there.

Ride A Dark Horse is filled with romance clichés. You know…the too-good-to-be-true heroine. Her cute as a button twins. Her overprotective older brother. The over-the-top witch of an ex-wife. And the biggest stereotype of all, Caleb. A man hurt by his ex, therefore, all women must be scum and treated accordingly. The author works hard to redeem him as the book progresses and in the end he turns out to be a pretty nice guy. But he was so effectively depicted as a jerk in the beginning, I was never able to get past that.

Author Laura Moore certainly knows her stuff when it comes to horses and veterinary work. But there’s too much animal information - detailed descriptions of horse grooming and veterinary treatments that stop the action and weigh the book down. At 450 pages, some of this tedious information should have been cut and the focus placed on the romantic elements.

As the action picks up towards the end of the book, I found myself reading past my bedtime to see what would happen next. Had Ride A Dark Horse been peopled with less stereotypical characters and fewer clichéd plot elements, this could easily have been a four heart read.

--Karen Lynch

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