No Ordinary Cowboy
by Mary Sullivan
(Harl Super #1570, $5.50, PG)  ISBN 978-0373-71570-1
***
Here is a debut novel worth looking for, especially if you like things a little on the sentimental side.  No Ordinary Cowboy is filled with characters who are troubled yet look beyond their own issues and who give more than they get. At times, it strays onto the edge of syrupy, but never crosses the line and ultimately satisfies.

Hank Shelter has his own ranch, The Sheltering Arms, that borders his sister’s ranch, but both are really owned by his sister, Leila, who was given the property in their father’s will. Hank has always slightly resented Leila due to this slight, but understands it is not her fault. Born of different mothers almost 18 years apart, Hank always felt second best to Leila. he will just solidified his feelings. He has dyslexia and can’t read and was forced to hide the fact by his father, who was ashamed of him. 

But up until recently, Leila, who is unaware of his dyslexia, has let him run the properties without interference. Now she is sending an accountant to help him, swearing she got a letter from the bank stating that they are about ready to be foreclosed due to lack of payment. Hank knows better and has confirmed it with the local bank manager. Hank knows he is running things close, but his mission is too important to screw up and his secret too important to him to lose track.

Hank runs The Sheltering Arms as a camp for kids recuperating from devastating diseases like cancer. They come for three weeks and then the hands have a week to regenerate and refresh before another group comes. The ranch was started in memory of Hank’s son Jamie, who did not survive his illness. Hank is now divorced and determined to make things work.

Amy Graves, the accountant, is a friend of Leila’s despite being almost 20 years her junior. She is fragile, having just come off a cancer battle herself. She is a breast cancer survivor who had a mastectomy and whose fiancée dumped her after seeing her scar. Two years have passed, but Amy can’t seem to get back in the saddle again. Her plan is to breeze in, check the books, and probably sell the land so Leila can avoid bankruptcy, then to go back to Denver and keep licking her wounds. But Ordinary, Montana and Hank have different ideas.

Amy falls for the land and its beauty. She falls for the townspeople who embrace her and show her what community means. And she falls for the man who may not be academically smart, but who is caring and loving with his ranch kids and with her. Amy also falls for the kids.

Hank is determined to run off this accountant before she can discover his secret. He plans to ignore her most of the time. But she is attractive and seems like a wounded animal. He soon finds he is attracted and intrigued at the same time. He has to work to make her realize that he is flawed and that her physical disfigurement means nothing to him.

There is a lot to this story, and the two main characters realize that they need to find a truce because their goal is the same – save the ranch. Once they start working together, the sparks start to sizzle and it isn’t long before they start to fly. Yet they are each keeping secrets and holding back from the other. 

Sullivan has written a tale that is engaging, yet there were times when Hank seems too good to be true. Even really good men have a flaw or two. Amy starts to set him on a pedestal and that made the love she was feeling a little bit too idealistic. Luckily for the reader, the author moved off this rather quickly. The ending is a tad sappy, but hey, with the goal to help the reader feel emotions, Sullivan does manage to touch the heart.

No Ordinary Cowboy is a poignant tale of two wounded souls who find comfort, love and ultimately happiness. Sentimentality is a key word in this story. If you like those types of tales, then check out this very good debut book. 

--Shirley Lyons


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