Cinnamon & Roses

A Promise of Roses

Almost A Lady by Heidi Betts
(Leisure, $4.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-4817-5
Pinkerton Agent Willow Hastings, had seen enough of Brandt Donovan to last a lifetime! While she was disguised as a man, apprehending a suspect in Jefferson City, Missouri, Brandt had the nerve to interfere, allowing her suspect to slip away. Her job was already on unstable ground due to the death of Allan Pinkerton, and the new management’s belief that women should not be agents.

Brandt Donovan had come to Jefferson City, at the request of friends, to check up on Willow Hastings. He finds her, singing and living in a local brothel. His mission complete, he sets his sights on returning to Boston. The problem is he can’t get the beautiful and saucy Miss Hastings out of his mind.

In the meantime, Willow is summoned back to New York City to be reprimanded, when she runs into a fellow agent, Charlie Barker, at the train station. Looking nervous, Charlie departs the train, only to get stabbed for his trouble. He thrusts a mysterious scrawled message into Willow’s hand, and then dies in her arms.

Determined to keep her job, and find Charlie’s killer, Willow sweet talks her employer, Robert Pinkerton, into letting her investigate. There’s a catch though, she has to work with the head of Union Pacific’s security, none other than Brandt Donovan.

Upon starting Almost A Lady, I was hopeful for a fun, frothy romance with a little bit of intrigue. To a certain extent, readers will find elements of all of that, but under closer scrutiny, the romance just doesn’t hold up.

Brandt and Willow have lots of tension and verbal sparring matches, but that’s about it. Readers looking for a couple that comes to develop a deep, satisfying love will walk away feeling mightily disappointed. What readers get is a lust/hate relationship. Romance readers know their type quite well: “I hate you. You’re obnoxious. You’re stubborn. KISS ME YOU FOOL!” I was bored. Worse still, is Brandt’s behavior immediately following the above scene. The fact that the book didn’t hit the wall is testimony to my restraint.

Willow is a nice change of pace from the average romance heroine. We’ve all heard of alpha males, how about alpha females? Willow gives “spunky and headstrong” new definitions. I found nothing wrong with this, in fact was enjoying it immensely, until Willow begins to exhibit annoying alpha characteristics, the main being her penchant for lying. Half the time, I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t telling the truth. In fact, she herself admits that she finds fiction much more favorable to honesty.

The aspect of the story I was more satisfied with was Charlie’s death. While not a mystery in the traditional sense, the culprit is known for the last half of the novel, readers get a first rate villain and some creepy atmosphere that adds some oomph. While my interest in the romance quickly waned, this part of the story continued to hold my interest to the very end.

There’s quite a bit of promise in this last entry to Betts’ Rose trilogy. Willow’s alpha nature and the tracking of a killer shows that the author has some good ideas. Also, the inclusion of a lady Pinkerton agent was a nice historical touch, and quite a unique one at that. Unfortunately a weak romance featuring characters that had me gritting my teeth more often than not, makes Almost A Lady a book I cannot wholeheartedly recommend.

--Wendy Crutcher

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