While Diana Palmer's latest installment in her long-standing "Long, Tall Texans" series uses the author's often tried and true formula, it lacks the emotional tug found in most of the veteran writer's stories.

While Diana Palmer's latest installment in her long-standing "Long, Tall Texans" series uses the author's often tried and true formula, it lacks the emotional tug found in most of the veteran writer's stories.

In other words, it's a bit flat.

The good news is that detective Rick Marquez finally gets the girl. Rick has appeared in several of Palmer's other stories in the series, and has been the nice guy who graciously loses the heroine to her true love.

Gwen is a newcomer to the Jacobsville gang.

Gwen and Rick are working a murder case together, but Gwen has an ulterior assignment with another agency — neither of which Rick knows about. Her mission: To persuade Rick to serve as a U.S. government liaison with an overthrown small country dictator, who is about to fight and win back his power. The dictator is Rick's father, although neither dad nor son knows that. Oh, and Gwen can't reveal the relationship to Rick.

You've gotta love Palmer's plots.

As many of Palmer's stories, it's all a bit flimsy. But as many of Palmer's stories, it has the charming characters and corny love scenes that make fans keep reading, even as they roll their eyes.

Rick and Gwen have very few bumps along their romantic highway. Rick doesn't start off by devastating Gwen's emotions, so he doesn't have a lot of reason to grovel. He does have one slip-up that leads to a rather dramatic reconciliation. Very Palmersque.

If you're a fan of Palmer's "Long, Tall Texans" series, you'll want to read this one. If you haven't read the other stories, skip it.

Overall rating: 3-minus of 5 hearts. "Long, Tall Texans" fans are obviously very forgiving when it comes to expecting things like substance. This isn't as good as most of the books in the series, but there is enough familiarity to be a must-read for Jacobsville fans. At least it's a quick and easy read.

Hunk appeal: 10. Rick is a nice guy, but is missing the rugged panache of most of the heroes in this series. He acts like a whiny baby when he finds out about Gwen's father, but presumably he had to in order to set up perhaps the most endearingly romantic scene in the book.

Steamy scene grade: XXXX. Not missing panache here.

Happily-Ever-After: Good. It ends in rather a rushed, rambling way, but everything is as it should be. It's especially nice that it ends with a family Christmas celebration.

"Only Us: A Fool's Gold Holiday" by Susan Mallery (e-book ) 3 of 5 hearts

This holiday story is a free download, and a short, easy read. Carina is a dog groomer, hopelessly in love with veterinarian Cameron. Cameron is a single dad, who considers Rina only a friend — until she blurts out her real feelings one night and forces him to examine his own. Mallery does a good job of writing a short story without making it feel incomplete or rushed. Readers will feel Rina's pain as she tries to make it through the holidays thinking the man she loves, doesn't share those feelings. Of course, then she gets an awesome Christmas gift and it's all good.

Lezlie Patterson is a former columnist for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. Readers may send her email at lezlie.patterson@gmail.com. To read more of her romance reviews go to http:lezlie-romance.blogspot.com.