Kentucky Dream by Terry Blain
(Precious Gems Historical, $2.56, PG-13)
ISBN 0-8217-6240-0
****
Kensington's Precious Gems line is attempting to carve out a niche in the historical romance market by offering readers a bargain-basement price on paperbacks. Don't be fooled into thinking that you'll automatically be getting bargain-basement quality, though. Kentucky Dream is quite a respectable first effort by new author Terry Blain.

Young widow April Williamson wishes to leave Philadelphia and return to the Kentucky of her youth. She's been left some property there, and her desire to make a life of her own as a seamstress prompts her to locate Dan McKenzie and ask him to allow her passage on his supply train. Dan is a scout for the army and he is transporting supplies to General Wayne in Ohio, then moving on to Kentucky. And he's not at all inclined to take April along. After all, this is 1794, the trail is rough, and the frontier is no place for a woman.

When April circumvents him by writing to General Wayne himself, Dan has no choice but to obey orders. He soon finds himself very attracted to April; her common sense and independent streak intrigue him as much as her looks. But April reveals that her father was murdered in an Indian attack, and Dan is one-quarter Indian. He's considered a half-breed by many whites, in fact. How will she feel about him when she finds out?

Luckily for the reader, the author doesn't make this the central conflict in the book, as I don't think it would have held up. The truth of Dan's lineage is revealed early on, and the rest of the book deals with getting to Kentucky safely and the growing desire between Dan and April. He's convinced she'll never last on the frontier; she's determined to show him how foolish his notions are.

There is also a subplot with a traitor who wants Dad dead. Here the author does a decent job of interweaving all the factions that existed on the frontier after the American Revolution: British interests, Indians, white settlers, a few French who still inhabited the Ohio River Valley. All had their own goals in mind, and the factions played off each other. Dan, being part-Indian, is caught in the middle, though he knows where his loyalties lie.

April is presented as sensible and intelligent. Her character tone was set early on with her reaction to Dan's initial refusal to take her along. She doesn't whine, cry, or beg prettily. Instead, she acts with dignity, simply asking Dan and his partner, Scotty, to please think about it and reconsider. The letter to General Wayne is no female machination to force Dan's hand; it's a move made before she met him. And her actions on the trail are just as adult. The result of this was that by the time they reached Kentucky, I really did believe that April would make it on her own, an idea I didn't entirely embrace at the beginning of the story.

There was one aspect of the plot I found to be a bit contrived, dealing with April's deceased husband and the state of their marriage. It seemed purposeless other than as a tool for Dan to be surprised when they finally do become intimate. However, it didn't detract from the story too much.

Overall, Kentucky Dream is a solid and entertaining first effort, and easy to recommend for readers who like American-set historicals. The low price is just a bonus.

--Cathy Sova


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