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Theshayne Littlest Cowboy, by Maggie Shayne, was published by Silhouette Intimate Moments in 1996. It’s now available as an e-book and print on demand paperback, as Shayne has gone independent after 61 books. The Littlest Cowboy is part of a series called The Texas Brand, featuring five siblings. Shayne is a prolific romance author, and former soap opera writer.

Soap opera writer? Perhaps that explains it.

This book and I got off to a bad start. The first page is a handy family tree of the Brand siblings – including Garrett’s wife and adopted child. I know Romances are predictable, but announcing the outcome of the story on the first page? Chapter one then introduces all the siblings, which I already know from the family tree.

Garrett, in his mid-thirties, lives with three of his siblings in the family house on the ranch. Orphaned at seventeen, he’s raised his siblings, and become the sheriff of a small town with no crime. Rugged, honest, hardworking, a perfect gentleman to old ladies and strangers, a good cook, free of money concerns…his only flaw seems to a hesitation to pursue women. He’d be almost be too good to be true, if he didn’t have equally honest, hardworking, and talented siblings. A passing woman was so impressed that many months after he helped her change a tire, she left her baby on his doorstep.

Soon after, Chelsea shows up and attacks Garrett. The baby is Chelsea’s niece, and Chelsea’s sister has been found dead of a drug overdose, ruled a suicide by the police. Chelsea believes her sister was killed by the baby’s father, her sister’s abusive boyfriend, and seeks revenge. It’s quickly established that Garrett is not the father, and since the real father is a drug lord, Chelsea remains at the farm as she needs to hide from the father. No one knows she’s there, except the friend who is forwarding her mail…

I know everything is bigger in Texas, and that’s certainly true here. Garrett is a paragon of virtue, and the real father is a major drug lord that no one has been able to touch. Chelsea hates the abusive boyfriend of her sister, because she (and her sister) grew up in an abusive household, where her father killed her mother. In fact, Chelsea hates all men, and has sworn to die a virgin.

Toss in a cattle stampede, a barn fire, an absurd seduction using cue cards, hostage taking, and a climatic fight between the forces of Good and Evil in a box canyon, at night, and we have a whole lot of silliness. All of which might be enjoyable if Chelsea wasn’t so unstable and immature, and didn’t change her mind about men so quickly on meeting Garrett. She doesn’t just change her mind – it’s not long before she and Garrett are having sex under the stars. Of course it’s great sex, even though she’s a virgin. She might have least requested he use a condom -or if he’s such a gentleman, he could have produced one.

Checking other reviews online, I see that people either love or hate this over-the-top style. I don’t mind it as a general rule, but in this case I don’t appreciate the casual violence, the eventual minimization of the effects of abuse, and the hopeless damsel in distress heroine.

My bubble bath rating: Dollar store vanilla.

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