Author: Jessica Bird
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: July 30, 2002
Publisher: Ivy Books
A beautiful young woman with a defiant spirit, A. J. Sutherland spends a small fortune on a horse with a wild reputation, and is forced to sacrifice her position at her family’s stables to keep him. She plans to ride the magnificent stallion in the biggest event of the show jumping season—and she knows she can win. But without the backing of Sutherland Stables, A. J. must rely on a stranger to help her: a man who makes her heart pound, her head spin ...and who just happens to be a legend in equestrian circles.
When Devlin McCloud’s career was cut short by a tragic accident, he never expected to get back in the ring. But when A. J. asks him to be her trainer, he finds he cannot resist the chance—or his stunning new employer. And what begins as a business arrangement soon becomes something deeper, as Devlin and A. J. learn that even in a sport full of hazards, sometimes the most dangerous thing to risk is one’s heart...
I must admit I was rather disappointed with this book. If I could I’d give this one two and a half stars, but it’s closer to three than it’s to two, so three will have to suffice.
Actually it started great, the middle was okay, but it all "went to hell in a hand basket" toward the end. And it was all the heroine’s fault.
A.J., the daughter of a wealthy stable owner, didn’t want to be bothered with anything but riding. She didn’t want her name to define her, but her skills with the horses. So one day, acting on yet another impulse, she spilled 30 grand on a Thoroughbred with quite an apropos name – Sabbath. The huge stallion was ill-tempered, prone to tantrums, and loved nothing more than to play bowling ball to the audience.
When her step-brother, tired of all her impulses, literally threw her and the horse on the street, A.J. took a leap of faith and crashed on the doorstep of a former champion and living legend, Devlin McCloud, whom she’s met for the first time that same morning at the horse auction.
In the past year Devlin has turned into a recluse, after the accident that took his horse’s life and shattered his leg. He want’s nothing to do with the circuit anymore, and even less to do with the woman (and horse) on his doorstep, especially since she stirs more than "training" instincts inside him.
Yet these two utter strangers embark on the rather perilous journey of turning the impossible stallion into a champion in only two weeks...And staying emotionally detached in the process.
A.J.’s character started off great. Despite her background, she was an independent and strong woman, determined to prove her worth as a rider without any help. Unfortunately this picture perfect façade only lasted for a few chapters, then her character literally degraded on the pages, and she turned into a spoiled brat.
Usually it’s the other way around, the spoiled rich kid grows and matures, while the author approached A.J. completely out of order. My hands itched, I wanted to slap her so bad.
And of course nothing was her fault, Devlin was always the bad guy. Just because he wanted to protect her, advise her (he knew what he was talking about, he’s been there and done it all), yet she stubbornly refused to listen to reason, and when she got hurt and he got upset, he was the mean one. Come again?!
Call me bloodthirsty, but I really hoped she’d get thrown off the horse in the big competition she used to "prove her worth". All she proved was that she was a selfish, spoiled, little rich bitch with no sense whatsoever. And then, when Devlin went off again, she still didn’t get it.
show/hide spoilerShe made a mistake. Not some small blunder like dropping something onto his head. She lied to him. Repeatedly. All he wanted was to protect her and keep her safe, and she lied to him. Destroyed his trust. What did she expect? For him to just roll over and take it all in stride?
Devlin, unfortunately, pulled the short stick with the whole world-revolving-around-A.J. thing. He was seriously undeveloped and that’s a shame, because there was so much there, lurking in the background waiting to be explored. Yet, the author sadly got pulled into the A.J. vortex and forgot about the guy. Despite everything he was a great character. The only fault I found was at the end.
show/hide spoilerHe made the biggest mistake there, if you ask me. He was the one who took the first step in the end. Sorry, but I was on the male side throughout this book, and Devlin’s final actions really disappointed me. He should’ve made her grovel!
I didn’t like how the romance progressed though. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for love at first sight epiphanies and all that jazz, but the thing between these two was too rushed and quite awkward. Maybe if there weren’t so many "horse and competition details" (though I loved Sabbath dearly), the romance would’ve progressed more smoothly...And there would me more space to put some depth to other characters beside the so-called heroine.
So, this book is quite an average romance, mostly for those who want to explore the author’s writing pre-BDB series. It actually made me reconsider reading that series as well, but since I have the rest of her JB book in my TBR pile I’ll have to persevere. Hey, maybe they’re an acquired taste and need a reread. Or it’s just the first-book curse and the writing hopefully gets better.
A C- for this one and keeping my fingers crossed for the next.
P.S. I tend to overlook inconsistencies in books, because they’re usually small and I know it’s sometimes rather difficult to spot them, but this story had one that stood out like a sore thumb. Devlin shattered his leg in the accident a year prior that resulted in a pronounced limp and he had to use a cane to move around. He even complained about the leg being stiff in the morning. The damage was such, he had to stop riding for fear of falling again (the leg’s been patched up as best as it could be, but it couldn’t sustain more damage). Yet, somewhere in the middle of the story, Devlin’s cane went buh-bye and by the end of the book he was running around and merrily jumping over fences like a goat on acid.
Interesting. Apparently shacking up with a woman indulging in hours of mattress-dancing cures shattered limbs. He should become an orthopedic and make loads of money.