The Texan just might have worked if Joan Johnston, instead of writing it as a romance novel, had written it as a six-week set of scripts for the soap opera Dallas. This book has all of the requisite elements for a good juicy soap: amoral magnate patriarch (Blackjack Blackthorne), one-dimensional villianess wife (Eve Blackthorne), multiple sets of star-crossed lovers including our hero and heroine (Owen Blackthorne and Bayleigh Creed), melodramatic dialogue, surprise illegitimate relations, illnesses/injuries necessary to precipitate sex and/or declarations of love, and various cliff-hanger moments.
Our story begins, appropriately enough, as the second installment of a series. In the last book, The Cowboy apparently many nefarious things happened, and as a result, our heroine, Bayleigh Creed, hates the Blackthorne family with a passion. Not only do they own everything around her, but Eve Blackthorne was responsible for the death of her father. Eve was jealous of husband Blackjack’s love for Bayleigh’s mother, Lauren, so Eve had a hit put out on Lauren, but the bullet missed and hit Bayleigh’s dad instead. Then, the death taxes on the estate almost bankrupted the Creed ranch. Furthermore, years ago Bayleigh’s brother Sam was crippled by our hero, Owen Blackthorne, in a football accident. There’s a lot of bad blood here.
Still, despite all of the negative feelings, these two families have managed to become intertwined to an almost incestuous degree. Blackjack and Lauren have had an undying (and mostly unconsummated) love for each other for the past thirty-five years, and several years ago one of the Blackthorne brothers, Trace, married Bayleigh’s sister, Callie (their story is told in The Cowboy).
Anyway, this episode’s plot goes like this: Several cases of nerve gas mines are found by the local National Guard. Owen’s brother Clay and Bayleigh’s brother Luke are both members of the National Guard company. While the mines are being taken to a disposal facility, they are hijacked and the thieves escape to the Big Bend National Park, a treacherous piece of desert in West Texas. Owen’s friend Hank, a Texas Ranger, goes after the thieves and is killed. To avenge his friend, Owen gets himself put on the case.
Before he can leave, however, Luke gets in a fight with Clay and accuses him of stealing the mines. Then Luke goes off into the Big Bend alone, seeking the truth. Worried about her brother, Bayleigh insists that she be brought along with Owen to find Luke and find out if he was right about Clay. Owen reluctantly agrees to take her, and they skulk about in the desert looking for tracks, and start noticing each other.
The problems I had with this book were many. The most glaring is that Johnston gives her characters sudden emotions that they couldn’t possibly have. She doesn’t let enough time pass or give enough explanation for any of those emotions to feel real. For example, after insisting ad nauseum that she hates all the Blackthornes, Bayleigh rather unexpectedly has sex with Owen only two days into their journey. And following their little encounter, Owen is ready to brave their families so they can be together. What? Only a few pages ago, he found Bayleigh very annoying and after one orgasm, he’s ready to fight to be with her? The feelings simply don’t ring true. This happens over and over in the course of the book. It’s rife with rushed emotions.
Also, neither Owen nor Bayleigh is particularly likable, mostly because they are such underdeveloped characters. All we know about Owen is that he is a Texas Ranger who has a great bod and is horny most of the time. All we know about Bayleigh is that she is a veterinarian who hates the Blackthornes. And, oh yeah, she spends a lot of time thinking about how great Owen’s bod is. Bayleigh has a couple of secrets, which might have added a little depth to her character had they not been completely obvious plot devices.
The many convoluted sub-plots detract rather than add to the story. The pivotal character of Blackjack Blackthorne teeters on the verge of being a black-mustacioed villain. He bulldozes over everyone, lying and bullying to get his way, yet Johnston seems to be setting him up as a real match for Lauren. She tries to give him softer moments, but they always seem artificial. In fact, all the main characters act in inconsistent ways throughout.
I would like to say something good about this book. Johnston does seem to have some real writing ability. Her descriptive passages are sometimes quite interesting, and she seems to have done her research. But good research and description can’t make up for the book’s excessive melodrama and unlikable characters. It seems to plod on and on, going nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Just like a soap opera. But as a recovering soap opera addict, I’d have to say daytime does it better than The Texan.