Mustang Annie by Rachelle Morgan
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80921-4
Mustang Annie is a gritty, tender western romance about a heroine running from a horrible incident in her past, and the man who prods, pushes, and pulls her into loving again.

Annie Harper’s world was shattered when her husband, Sekoda, was killed in a raid on their small ranch. Annie was brutalized, their prize horses were stolen, and the place was burned to the ground. Annie buried her husband and turned her back on love, taking up a nomadic life as an itinerant horse-trainer. Hence her nickname: Mustang Annie.

Brett Corrigan has never heard of Annie, but when his Arabian mares are lured away by a wild stallion, her name is brought to his attention by an old wrangler who once knew her personally and knows of her skill. Brett reluctantly tracks Annie to Nevada, where she’s working as a bronc buster. To his surprise, he also finds out that Annie Harper is a wanted woman. Seems she’d grown up with a grandpa who taught her to break a horse then steal it out from under the owner’s nose.

Annie isn’t interested in Brett’s offer of a job. She has to change her mind several days later, however, when she’s recognized by a former victim of her horse swindling and has to make a run for it. Brett’s Texas ranch is the most logical place.

Brett, Annie, and a group of ranch hands that includes old Wade Henry and young Dogie head for the canyon country of the Canadian River. Brett and Annie will find the horses, and discover much, much more than they expected about respect and love. But if Brett hopes to win Annie’s heart, he’ll have some massive obstacles to overcome, beginning with the wall she’s build to shield her emotions.

Annie is one of the most vivid female characters I’ve encountered in a western romance lately. Wounded, shuttered, her pain and confusion is detailed in watercolors: one shades into the next, seamlessly. The total package is a woman one might like for a friend and could easily admire for her spirit and resilience. If ever there was a character who deserved a second shot at a passionate love, it’s Mustang Annie Harper.

Brett is portrayed as a man who has faced the demons of his unhappy childhood and come through in pretty mature shape. Thankfully, the author avoided the tired cliché of male distrust toward women due to an unhappy past. Brett loves women, he’s just never been in love with any of them. Until Annie Harper, that is. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s the one woman who could care less about his intentions, declaring that love is off-limits for her. Brett’s tender, original methods of winning Annie’s trust will have you rooting for him.

The only irritant in an otherwise fine novel was the too-obvious setup for another book, featuring a character named of all things, Jesse Justiss. (I thought corny hero names like that went out with 90s. Appears not.) Anyway, Jesse pops up in the story just enough to keep his name in front of the reader, but serves little other function.

However, Mustang Annie is definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of western historical romance. Brett and Annie are guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings and leave you smiling.

--Cathy Sova

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