Cowboys And Cradles
by Sharon Swan
(Harl. American #912, $4.50 , PG) ISBN 0-373-16912-4
What sounds like a silly combination of Cowboys And Cradles is a funny, engaging and definitely recommended read by new author Sharon Swan. She’s an author to keep your eye on.

Ryder Quinn is a self-made man with a love for ranching and a goal to own the Creedence Creek Ranch when his mentor and friend, Amos Cutter, passes away. But now that Amos is gone, there is a snag…city-dweller and part-time clothes designer Eve Terry has won the bid on the ranch.

Ryder’s motivations are pretty simple. His parents drifted and never settled anywhere long. But during their travels, they came to the CCR and Ryder was born. He returned as a teen and now wants to set down roots there.

Eve is a little more complex. Her goal is to use the huge ranch house as a day care center for babies of low-income mothers, who otherwise might have to give up their child. Eve discovered that her real mother could not work because of a lack of day care. Although her life came out fine…Eve wants to eliminate the need for that painful choice. Eve has elaborate plans for the day care, including buying some used cars in order to make “loans” to these mothers, so that they have transportation to and from their places of employment.

Eve made her money by designing a line of “lady’s western wear” called Sassy Lady. Now she just adds to the line and sends in the drawings, something she is sure she can do from the ranch with no need to be in New York City.

Ryder is sure Eve is crazy and convinced she will hightail it back to the city soon while Eve is just as sure that she can do it. Ryder agrees to stay on as the operations man for 6 months, or until Eve packs up and leaves, whichever comes sooner. Eve promises herself she will start her day care and discover what she can about the running of a ranch to prove this cowboy wrong.

The sparks fly right off the pages. Eve and Ryder are attracted from the beginning, but neither will admit it. But once they share that first kiss…they can barely resist each other. Their love develops slowly and naturally. As it develops, both Eve and Ryder are surprised by the growing sense of rightness and they accept their feelings. Thank goodness the author has the sense to allow these two to figure things out without resorting to oftentimes over-used ploys found in many books.

Eve is determined to learn everything she can about modern-day ranching. Ryder is sure she will be either bored with the business end or sickened by the realities of branding and breeding. Eve is sure that Ryder will ridicule her day care center, and is surprised when he not only accepts it, but also helps to take care of the babies in an emergency.

The interactions that cement the relationship between these two make me smile just thinking about them. Ryder dealing with his first diaper change “accident” from little Max is a scene worth re-reading for its humor and charm. Eve’s first horse ride and exposure to branding makes me feel pride in her tenacity while grinning over her forced stoicism. Their “arguments” that dissolve when presented with logical reasons is a welcome departure from the stubborn and obstinate characters seen in too many stories. When Eve overhears a less than complimentary comment from Ryder, she immediately is able to recognize he is saying it only to agree with the unsavory character he is setting up for a fall. Ahhh…an intelligent woman!

The unusual conflict surrounding Max’s mother, Theresa, provides the opportunity for Ryder and Eve to work together towards a solution. And the circumstances surrounding Theresa and Max, which I am loathe to reveal lest I ruin the story for you, were well developed and refreshingly different than what I anticipated.

The older nurse, Cloris, hired to run the day care by Eve, and the stodgy old ranch cook, Pete, enrich the story. Both characters are somewhat predictable, but provide Ryder and Eve with confidantes, while enjoying a fun-filled secondary romance themselves.

Light, refreshing, somewhat predictable in small ways, but more importantly, surprising in its major plotlines, Cowboys And Cradles is one to enjoy and author Sharon Swan one to read again.

--Shirley Lyons

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