The Bounty Hunter, by Vicki Lewis Thomson, is a 1994 Harlequin Temptation. No link, as it seems to be out of print, not available as an eBook, and not widely available used. This is a more-or-less country and western romance – the heroine lives in a rural trailer (she bought, on land she owns), keeps a couple of horses and rides them for fun, and runs a hair salon which is part of a large country and western bar/dance hall/mini-mall. I guess places like this exist, or at least existed. A little research tells me the club model could be Gilley’s, featured in the film Urban Cowboy. I missed the whole Urban Cowboy thing, including the movie, but since this novel is from a decade later, presumably there was a second wave.
A brief biography notes that the author and her husband “recently joined the line dance craze,” and that she listened to country music to help set the writing mood. That, and a few elements of the story, suggest this is an earlier work, but she was getting writing awards in the 1980s. A quick view of her site shows her interest in country and western, at least for romance, was not a passing fad, although I’m intrigued by the Nerds, and Nerds and Geeks series.
I say more-or-less country, as the plot leans to the action genre rather than country and western. Dallas (how’s that for a country name?) led a jury that acquitted Neal of rape. He’s sleazy as all get out, and she’s not interested when he wants to express his appreciation for her careful consideration of the evidence. Then Gabe shows up, seeking justice on behalf of his sister, Neal’s victim. Gabe suspects Dallas is a friend of Neal’s, and when he learns that is not the case, he believes she might be in danger.
The setup is good, though there is never any doubt about Neal’s guilt or intentions. Gabe and Dallas start as enemies, become friends, and things go from there. I like the working class characters, and Thompson does a great job of evoking the country and western nightlife scene. Dallas is ambitious, hard working, smart, and her goals in life are wonderfully described by her plans to carefully breed her dog.
Unfortunately, the characters hopped into bed a little too quickly, squandering some great opportunities for romantic tension, and the remaining tension (is this a short affair or a long term thing?) is diluted by the growing importance of the suspense plot. On the other hand, that plot works well to keep reader interest and show the couple working together. The resolution of the relationship question comes quickly – so quickly that I checked to see if some pages were missing before the last chapter. The quick resolution made the character growth almost an afterthought, but at least there was some.
Overall, this is well constructed, with a good amount of realism, a strong female lead, and some narrative tricks I might try and use. I might have liked it more if Dallas was even stronger, and was not set up for multiple rescues, but a couple of lines in the epilogue gave me confidence that this couple found a solid happy ending.