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Summer Nights by Susan Mallery
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May 08, 2012

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Shane Stryker has returned to Fool’s Gold to be near his family. He’s bought two-hundred acres to set up his horse breeding program, he’s building a house, and he’s looking to find a woman who values commitment and monogamy, the opposite of his former wife. The last thing he’s looking for is excitement. So when he wanders into Jo’s Bar in search of a burger and a beer and finds a petite redhead dancing on the bar, he does his best to ignore the effect she has on his libido and retreats. He didn’t want hot. He wanted sensible. He wanted a family. He’d had his fill of the kind of woman who haunts his mind and takes over his world. His mother has the perfect, nice girl in mind for her middle son. Her name is Annabelle Weiss.

Annabelle Weiss is the town librarian with a minor in Maa-zib studies, the Mayan women who settled in Fool’s Gold centuries ago. She loves her job, her friends, and the town she now calls home. She’s spent her life trying to earn the love and approval of other people, first her parents and later her husband. She’s going to be true to herself in this new life she’s building. Her immediate focus is a fundraiser that will give her $135,000 to buy and stock a new bookmobile and keep it operating in rural areas that depend upon the service. Since Fool’s Gold is the City of Festivals, Annabelle decides that a Maa-zib festival culminating with the traditional ride of the female warrior who carves out the heart of a male sacrifice. The only problem is that Annabelle can’t ride and she needs a dancing horse. Her friend Heidi Simpson volunteers her almost brother-in-law, Shane Stryker, as the perfect man to teach Annabelle to ride and one of his horses to dance.

Shane is a great guy—a real cowboy who is good-looking, wealthy, and great with kids and animals. But when even an Arabian stallion is a better judge of character than the hero is, there’s a problem. Shane decides Annabelle is a wild woman who respects no boundaries with his first view of her dancing on that bar, and nothing really shakes the conclusion he jumps to. It doesn’t matter that his mother thinks she’s a nice girl, that all the animals love her, that her friends threaten to do serious damage to him if he hurts her, that every minute they share shows him a woman with integrity, strength, and compassion, that they are great together in bed and out, he never really trusts her. I wanted to brain him. It’s true that he comes through like the best of heroes at the end, but I couldn’t quite forgive him. I liked Annabelle, I adored Priscilla, the social elephant, and Khatar, the insightful horse, and I was totally hooked on the set-up for Charlie’s story. But foolish Shane kept this from being a book I loved.

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