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Romance Rider


As 30-year romance vet Shirlee Busbee has grown up, so have her characters. "I find that my males have become nicer," she says. "My stories involve two basically nice people involved in situations that force them to trust each other."

One of the original "Avon Ladies" -- "like Bertrice Small and Rosemary Rogers" -- Busbee's first romance, Gypsy Lady, was released in 1977.

"Thirty years ago we were all into the alpha males and the dominance factor," the author, who has made The New York Times bestseller list seven times, says. "That and what somebody once referred to as 'forcible seduction.'

"I think we had to go through the alpha male to grow up, because that was the fantasy. There isn't a woman alive who didn't adore Steve from [Rogers' 1977 Avon release] Sweet Savage Love, but he would only be good for a roll in the hay, you really wouldn't want him for a life partner."

These days though Busbee appreciates a kinder hero, one who will rub your feet and maybe get you a cup of coffee when you ask, not growl, "Get your own, bitch," she laughs. But that makes it more of a challenge, plotwise. "It's difficult when you start out with two nice people who don't hate each other," she says. "For them to work it through can't be the whole story. So I've been adding a mystery or murder or something to solve. In the process of solving that, they resolve their own situation."

That's just what the protagonists of Scandal Becomes Her (Jul., Brava), Busbee's first historical in six years, do. An unlikely couple, Nell Anslowe and Julian, Earl of Wyndham, wed to avoid a scandal. As they grow to love each other, they also puzzle over Nell's vivid nightmares about a vicious killer. "One of the hurdles Julian has to cross is to believe her when she explains the nature of her nightmares and to accept the fact,like it or not, understand it or not, that his wife has some sort of connection to a madman," Busbee says. "Once he does, they work together to find and destroy the madman."

Busbee's favorite period is "about 1796 to 1815," the Regency era in which Scandal Becomes Her is set. "You've got Napoleon, you've got Barbary Coast pirates, the War of 1812, Jean Lafitte -- let alone the Prince Regent himself," she says.

The timeframe allows her to indulge a great love of hers: horses. Noting that her characters almost always ride and own spirited horses, Busbee raves about the books she read as a child. "Thomas C. Hinkle's Silver: The Story of a Wild Horse; The Black Stallion -- I just inhaled that stuff. And Rex, King of Wild Horses," she says, referring to the equine star of many Universal oaters of the 1930s and '40s, "let me tell you: I WAS Rex!"

When she and her husband, Howard, moved to a ranch in Northern California, the first item on their agenda was acquiring a horse. But while paging through a copy of The Encyclopedia of the Horse, Busbee saw a photo of an American Shetland pony and was smitten.

"They're like potato chips, you can't just have one," she jokes, adding that American Shetlands are "bred for beauty and refinement." Now she and Howard, who celebrated their 44th anniversary in June, raise American Shetland show ponies. "We used to raise horses, and the difference is, when you go out to meet a horse, it leans down for a kiss. With Shetlands, you have all these little noses reaching up to you for kisses."

When she's not working with the ponies or cavorting with her posse of miniature Schnauzers, Busbee writes. Seduction Becomes Her is up next in summer '08. It features Charles Weston, Julian's cousin, who appears in Scandal Becomes Her. -- Liz French

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