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Stranded on the Ranch
by Pat Warren
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1199, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24199-2
***
Have the Powers That Be at Harlequin/Silhouette moved to the Southwest? Are they trying to show us the bucolic joys of raising cattle and loving a cowman in bookafterbookafterbook? It certainly seems that way. Saddle sores may be a real possibility after reading all these Western-themed 'Love on the Range' books. I'm just about ready for the buying public to say, "I ain't buying it," both literally and figuratively. Too much of a good thing is exactly that: Too Much. End of harangue.

Twenty-six-year-old Kari Sinclair is again campaigning for the reelection of her father, Arizona senator James Sinclair. She's tired of the rubber chicken dinners, tired of the endless handshakes and perpetual smiles. On an impulse, she defies her bodyguards and just takes a walk to briefly explore life beyond the confines of her hotel and narrow, guarded existence. Before her allergies get the best of her, she takes two pills, not realizing that the results will be… very interesting.

Horse rancher Dillon Tracy is repulsed when he sees a young woman who's so drunk she's staggering. Dismissing her, he starts back to his home northwest of Flagstaff, totally unaware that he has a passenger, one who's decided to rest in his truck bed, is asleep and is literally along for the ride.

Dillon's abhorrence to drunks is longstanding. His mother, an alcoholic, lied to her children and frequently left them unsupervised while she got drunk. She was killed as she staggered along the road. He has zero tolerance for drunks and liars. When he finds Kari, he's relieved to discover that she hadn't been drunk, just over-medicated.

Accepting Kari's explanation that she needs time away from her demanding father, unaware that he is a U.S. senator, Dillon allows her to stay on his ranch. Their relationship progresses normally, but Kari's omission that she's a senator's daughter will have serious repercussions.

Sometimes plot contrivances are obvious, too obvious. How often have we been exposed to this kind of scenario? She's afraid of planes; he's a pilot. She's running from the law; he is the law. Here we've got a man who hates liars. Who should he meet? A young woman who's lying, if only by omission. And is not telling something really lying? Dillon hates liars. Kari is lying to protect her identity and possibly her very safety. Being a senator's daughter and used to threats, she doesn't know yet if Dillon is a true friend or foe. When he discovers her reasons, which are perfectly credible to me, will his reaction be realistic? Forgive and forget? Or will it be theatrical?

Does Dillon condemn her without a trial? How often we profess love, then turn it away at the first sign of trouble. I can count on one hand the number of authors who've allowed their characters to rationally discuss the problem before it escalates. Why is it preferable to allow one or both of the protagonists to explode? Is it a rule that the conflict has to be predictable? Kari is falling in love with a man who's never learned about forgiveness. Are you ever tempted to ask, "Who needs him, this unforgiving, unfeeling jerk?"

Mac, a well-developed secondary character, offers Dillon some sage advice. "Ain't nobody perfect. Some would even say you. I think you made a mistake." I've always subscribed to the Cinderella philosophy, which applies here. How can I go looking for Prince Charming if I'm not really much of a Cinderella? Just how princely is Dillon? Maybe he's not prince enough for Kari.

Kari is the cork which keeps this story from sinking. She not only stands up to her father, not an easy task considering how formidable he is, she outlasts Dillon's reservations, too. Her goodness and tenacity shine through when she helps Dillon's community withstand a flood. When Dillon sees her hauling sandbags and dispersing cheer throughout the dark night and realizes that she's here without his knowledge or invitation and could still face his censure, he knows that this courageous woman is the right one for him.

Pat Warren is not one of my automatic-buy authors. She is an automatic pick-up-and-read-the- blurb author. I associate her name with some really good books and some that I've forgotten. Stranded on the Ranch will fall into the latter category.

--Linda Mowery


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