Lone Rider
by Lauren Bach, contemporary (2001)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61114-X

Lauren Bach serves up a romantic suspense story that will be great if (a) it isn't rather awkwardly plotted, (b) if it isn't dull, and (c) if it is dark enough. It's a decent read, but the whole premise loses me.

Tess Marsh is a happy woman. Her Native South American jewelry business about to take off, the night sky is beautiful, and she is so happy that she misses her turn along the road. It's very early in the morning - the sun isn't even up yet (and won't be for a long while). So what is she to do when two horny elks approach her convertible?

Dallas Haynes (tell me if that doesn't sound like the name of a porn star) is on an undercover mission when he and his Harley sees this poor stranded and beautiful woman in the middle of nowhere. He's busy infiltrating a nasty gang, but hey, he has to stop reluctantly to help Tess nonetheless.

Dallas points out that Tess is a woman alone in the middle of nowhere. Tess gets spooked, and lies ineptly that she is with someone. But after they start chatting about Tess' business and how she is Not Exploiting Dumb Uneducated Natives to make money (does anybody care whether she is or isn't?) Tess starts revising her opinion of his rugged, handsome stranger. They have a bond, y'know.

Well, for a woman who travels without a Mace Spray or cell phone, she's right in character.

It serves these two mumus right that they are so busy chit-chatting, Ted Bundy and Potential Victim style, that the Bad Evil Gang vrooms up. Now Dallas will have to pretend that Tess is his moll and keeps her safe even as he kidnaps her. Or something.

This is a plot that necessitates Tess to be forever in distress. Some bungled-up escape attempts break the monotony. Kindly enough, the Bad Evil Gang vrooms out when the plot demands it, letting Tess' Stockholm Syndrome to hang out in all its glory. They have a bond, remember, and the bond isn't something you sniff at. It's a bond, people. A bond! As they bond, Tess wonders whether Dallas has any women in his life. She is a virgin, saved by this handsome stranger from gang rape. A bond, a bond! Ooh.

When she finds out that Dallas has been married before... Oh. My. God.

But I have to hand it to the author - she does mention Stockholm Syndrome, albeit in a perfunctory way. She justifies the attraction between Tess and Dallas in that, look, people, they first bonded in that chit-chat at moonlight thing. Uh, okay.

When the plot wants some tension, vrooms back in the Evil Gang. I have no idea what this gang actually do. There is no grand evil cunning plot, nothing but everyone wanting to rape Tess. Dallas takes this long to topple this bunch of goonies? Uh, yeah.

Maybe that's the problem with this story - it sets itself up to be a dark, quirky noirish comedy but it ends up being a humorless black-and-white extended Silhouette Intimate Moments story. Dallas is so straightforwardly nice and noble that I am hard-pressed to believe that he can dupe any sensible Evil Gang into believing that he's one of them. (Then again, considering the goonies in this story...) Tess doesn't trust Dallas when the Goonies are around (Ms Bach: "Ooh, will she blow their cover? Tension, people - tension! Aren't you just at the edge of your seat, readers?"), but when it's just she and Dallas in contrived quiet moments, she's busy agonizing over thoughts of Dallas with other women while she's in the shower or some other nonsense in that ilk. This is one unhealthy relationship in the making, but Lauren Bach passes this as true love. This sugarcoating, not the dysfunctional relationship, is what I find bewildering.

In the end, Lone Rider just doesn't grab my interest. If it's not the Goonies acting like drunk kids planning to raid a college sorority panty wardrobe, it's Tess batting her eyelids like some besotted preprogrammed blinking doll at Dallas. I'd love some dark stuff - how about Dallas getting some bad vibes in his nature from his time spent among the goonies? - but alas, all I get is a clear-cut romance. Tess = virgin in distress, purely visceral, thinking only when the plot demands it. Dallas = undercover superhero. The Goonies = the goonies. It's just a matter of time before the predictable happy ending comes.

How rather blah, I must say.

Rating: 71

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