Ride a Painted Pony
I can only attest to reading one of Kathleen Eagle’s books in the past and it moved so slowly that I was hesitant to try another. Therefore, I must admit that as I began to read Ride a Painted Pony, I was a bit surprised by not only its ability to garner my total attention but also by the feeling that the lead characters could be my real-life friends. This is contemporary romance just the way I like it, with a realistic relationship taking front and center, while a minor suspense element plays in the background. This book deserves its hardcover price.
Nick Red Shield hauls horses for a living, although his heart lies with his ranch in South Dakota. His dream of a successful horse-breeding operation is finally becoming a reality and he hopes it will soon take him off the road. As he finishes a run late one night, his truck hits an unknown object and Nick nearly loses total control of his truck and trailer. As he investigates the cause of his accident, he finds an injured woman on the side of the road who insists he had nothing to do with her injuries and refuses medical treatment. She wants only one thing from Nick and that is to go wherever Nick is headed. A loner by nature, Nick has no desire to take the mysterious woman with him, but feels a strong sense of responsibility towards her and decides to let her ride along – for a while.
Before giving birth to her son a year ago, Lauren Davis’s career as a jockey provided her with the only sense of accomplishment in her life. At the top of her game, Lauren enjoyed a number of years as one of the best jockeys around before motherhood caused her to reevaluate her life and choose raising her child over a demanding career. But the child’s reluctant father had a far different view and didn’t support her decision to quit riding. Power is everything to the man and losing the edge Lauren’s career gave him moves him to his final act of vengeance. He takes her baby, roughs her up, and orders her murder. Fortunately, the hit man assigned to carry out the deed has a soft spot for Lauren and dumps her on the side of the road after warning her that she can never attempt to reclaim her son.
Before returning home, Nick picks up the last indispensable piece of his horse-breeding dream – a Paint stud with a family tree full of equine royalty and a lot of running blood as well. Lauren is still riding along when Nick takes possession of the horse and with her background in horse flesh, Lauren knows that this horse is a winner in more ways than one. Nick is pleasantly surprised at Lauren’s knowledge of horses, as well as with her ability to work so easily with his precious cargo. And before long Nick finds himself heading home with Lauren in tow, although he assures himself that it is only temporary.
An American Indian living on the Lakota reservation, Nick is a man of few words and seemingly, emotions. However, Nick is surprised that he talks so easily with Lauren and finds himself telling her things he has never shared with a soul. Herein lies my greatest problem with the story. Lauren refuses to give Nick the details of her past, including the fact that she has a child, although she expects him to share his darkest secrets. Nick respects Lauren’s privacy, but she clearly doesn’t show much respect for his.
Although there is an attractive cast of secondary characters, this remains primarily the story of Nick and Lauren. Their romance gently unfolds as they discover there is much to respect, like, and love about the other and neither is afraid to show it. As with most heroes these days, there is a tragedy in Nick’s past with great potential for the tortured hero syndrome, but Nick doesn’t play that game. While his past experience is both realistic and haunting, Nick is mature and accepting with little resultant dysfunctional behavior. His attitude toward this tragedy makes the story all that much more dynamic.
Nick is a sweet and gentle soul, and more of a man because of it. He is a man who wants to protect his woman although he can’t identify the threat, who wants to keep his woman but doesn’t believe she is available, and who wants to be okay with it all when she finally returns to her previous life -whatever that may be. It was refreshing to read about a sexy yet slightly shy man who is extremely considerate of women while never once falling into the pushover category.
If you insist on a strong suspense element, Ride a Painted Pony may disappoint since it definitely takes a back seat. It’s not fast moving either – Eagle maintains a relaxed pace. But it is that pace, along with her ability to keep me completely engrossed in the lead characters, that most caught my fancy. I was moved by this tender relationship between two loving, mature characters who, despite their baggage, knew they could move on with their lives in a constructive manner.