Wild Mustang by Jane Toombs
(Silh. Spec. Ed. #1326, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24326-X
***
Laura Walker begins her job as a mustang watcher on the Bearclaw ranch by almost getting trampled by the leader of a wild herd of mustangs. Shane Bearclaw rescues her in the nick of time. No, it isnít exactly love at first gallop -- he is annoyed that she got herself into the situation in the first place and she hates his macho attitude when he saves her.

But things donít end there, of course. Shane lives on the ranch with grandfather and his little half-sister, Sage. Shane wants to keep it that way, but Sageís father wants custody of Sage now that Sageís mother has died. Grandfatherís idea is to have Shane ask Laura to marry him to show that Sage would have a stable two-parent household if she is allowed to stay.

Shane isnít interested in a second marriage -- he had one very bad first one -- and Laura seems terrified about the idea. (Of course since she gets told the plan within the first few days of her arrival, I could understand her reaction even though I knew she also obviously had some secret in her past that made her afraid.) But she likes Sage, hates the idea of Sage being sent off to a possibly abusive father, and -- rather remarkably -- agrees to the idea as long as they agree it will be a marriage in name only. The hardest thing to believe in this story is her elatively quick agreement to any part of this plan.

But she trusts the right person. Shane is a good guy and, fortunately, since he realizes he is becoming interested in his new wife, a patient one. Laura takes a while to become relaxed on the ranch and she is obviously afraid of being close to people, but she begins to like being there and being around her husband. Still, it is obvious that Laura has a lot of fear inside her, which she only gradually begins to let go. Shane handles that fear -- and Laura -- very well. Itís also amusing to see how Grandfather handles everyone on the ranch. Somehow everyone always ends up doing what he wants.

The relationship between Shane and Laura evolves gradually and realistically. Shane doesnít push things -- the reader is encouraged originally to think of him as the wild mustang, but Laura is the one who reminds Shane of a skittish wild horse -- and eventually Laura trusts him enough to explain her past and to let go of the bad memories.

How Shane learns to let go of his anger and distrust also is a gradual, natural process. In this story, unlike others Iíve read recently, I can believe it when Shane uses his Paiute ancestry to enhance the relationship and to help heal mental wounds. The Paiute customs and ways underline the story but donít overwhelm it. As Laura learns them, she begins to feel like she, too, belongs.

There is no huge drama in Wild Mustang although feelings are hurt and anger does flare, but what does go on works.

--Irene Williams


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