The Black Sheep and the Hidden Beauty

Donna Kauffman
2008, Contemporary Romance
Brava, $14.00, 359 pages, Amazon ASIN 0758217277
Part of a series

Grade: D
Sensuality: Hot

Did you know we've granted Donna Kauffman DIK status three times?

This was a grueling read. I know I'm in trouble when I repeatedly check to see how many pages I have left in a book, something that happened too often while I read The Black Sheep and the Hidden Beauty. I eventually put markers at the 25%, 50% and 75% points. While that didn't improve the book, it provided visual clues as to how much longer I had to suffer while reading it.

Elena recently moved to Dalton Downs to train horses. The business owned by hero Rafe and his two friends is also, conveniently, located on the property. Rafe, who helps people in trouble, senses that Elena has a secret and decides to take riding lessons from her in order to discover it. Even though she's not his type (and we're told that repeatedly by everyone in the book), Rafe has a strong attraction to Elena.

The pacing is way off. The initial chapters featuring Rafe and Elena drag. I enjoy good dialogue between a hero and heroine and this book doesn't have it. Rafe asks Elena a question and, instead of an answer, we get two to three paragraphs of Elena's internal thoughts. Elena finally answers using one sentence followed by another two to three paragraphs of her thoughts. This "dialogue" goes on for pages. I started wondering if I was being too picky, and read a chapter aloud. Unfortunately, that only confirmed that no one would actually have a conversation like this. After a few minutes, any sane person would conclude that Elena is a complete dolt and walk away. Nearly halfway through the book, their conversations did improve, but by then it was too late.

In contrast, the chapters featuring Rafe and his friend Mac flow naturally and I can understand why these two are friends. But Rafe and Elena? I found Rafe's relationship with Petunia, the horse he uses for riding lessons, to be more interesting than his relationship with Elena. And to be honest, I found Petunia and another horse to be far more interesting than either Rafe or Elena and I'm not a horse person.

When I'm bored with a book, but have to finish it, I can find a lot of things to be picky about. Early on, Elena and Rafe have their first kiss. It's a hot, long kiss, filled with "dueling tongues." And let me just say that this kiss is hot enough that Elena has her first climax while wearing overalls and long underwear. I had to think about that a bit, particularly as a few paragraphs later, Elena notes to herself that she can't really feel anything through the "heavy denim." Late in the book, I found several scenes to be improbable. Elena made some decisions, landing herself in danger that made no sense, given both the situation and what little we know of her character.

Finally, there's Elena's great mystery. It was obvious to me, early on, what Elena's secret was. However, Rafe, owner of an organization that investigates mysteries and with just as many clues as I had, was unable to figure out the mystery until nearly the end of the book.

I understand the earlier book in this series, The Black Sheep and the Princess, features Rafe's friend Mac. Although I liked the two men's interactions in The Black Sheep and the Hidden Beauty, that's about all I liked. I won't be seeking out the earlier book.

-- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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