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The Maverick's Bride
by Doreen Roberts
(Silh. Int. Mom. # 945, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-07945-1
**
The Maverick's Bride is the third and last in a trilogy called Rodeo Men. Jed Cullen, rodeo cowboy, has one goal in mind: showing his hometown that he's not the loser they pegged him to be. In order to accomplish this, he needs to make a triumphant return to Promise, Arizona, wearing the World All-Around Championship buckle and sporting a classy wife on his arm. The buckle is within reach. Where he'll get the dame, he has no idea.

Then Jed spies Kristi Ramsett at a friend's wedding. Kristi is better known as a tough-talking stock handler for the rodeo, but seeing her all gussied up gets ol' Jed's heart to pitter-pattering. Golly gee, Kristi has legs and breasts. Who'd a thought it?

Jed does indeed win the coveted buckle, and at the celebration party, he decides to approach Kristi with an offer. If she'll pose as his wife for a few weeks, just long enough to make his family and friends back in Promise eat crow, then he'll shower her with goodies. New clothes, jewelry, whatever she wants.

Kristi, who's been carrying a torch for Jed for three years, accepts. Off they go to Promise, in a shiny new red sports car. On the way, Jed confesses: he was framed for an armed robbery as a teenager and hasn't been back to Promise since. His high-class girlfriend dumped him when he was arrested, and even his family deserted him. It's been more than fifteen years since he's seen any of them. But now they'll have to admit Jed Cullen is somebody.

Kristi is running from her own problems. Her father has just announced that he's planning to sell his stockyard outfit, rather than let Kristi take over as she's dreamed of doing. What the heck. Being Jed Cullen's pretend wife can't be any more painful than that.

Jed just didn't arouse much sympathy. He's off to show the world that he's Mr. Big Stuff, with his fat buckle, hot car, and good-looking wife. Problem is, Jed's supposed to be thirty-three, not sixteen with a teenager's fantasy of what constitutes Making It. His entire plan was juvenile from the start, and yes, this story tries to show his character growth as he's thwarted over and over, but frankly, Jed started out so far behind the eight ball that he never really caught up in my mind. His eleventh-hour revelation didn't ring true.

Kristi is thirty years old, yet when her father makes his big announcement, there's not one hint of "Gee, Dad, why not let me try running the business?" Instead, she runs off with Jed and mopes about how her father really wanted a boy. Since she's not willing to stand up for herself, I didn't care if her dreams were stepped on.

The secondary characters didn't fare any better. The villain is a cardboard loudmouth, and the ex-girlfriend (who thankfully is not a Scheming Vamp) has been married to him for years but actively hates him. Since they have no kids, one can only assume that she's spineless or a gold-digger who likes the material trappings. Either way, she doesn't invite any sympathy. Jed's mother is presented as kindly, but his father resists hearing the truth for so long that you have to wonder what kind of grudge he holds against his eldest son. When presented with evidence that your kid didn't commit a felony crime, wouldn't you want to believe it? Not so here. But his attitude is never fully explained.

Finally, the author has a writing style that has a rather monotonous rhythm to it. Starting six sentences in a row with "He" or "She" is mesmerizing, but not in a good way. It's more like a heartbeat lulling one to sleep.

All in all, The Maverick's Bride just didn't work for me. While there were glimmers of strong storytelling, they were overshadowed by other elements that were less positive. Look before you leap.

--Cathy Sova


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