Cullen's Bride by Fiona Brand
(Silh. Int. Mom. #914, $4.25, PG ) ISBN 0-373-7914-1
Fiona Brand is one of four authors making their debut in the March Intimate Moments series. Cullen's Bride is set in a small ranching town on the North Island of New Zealand. It is a story written about New Zealanders, by a New Zealander, as is evidenced by some word usage that is foreign to an American. It is a great reading experience and for my money, the only unimaginative part of the book is the title.

At the age of eight, Cullen Logan was removed from his single parent home when the authorities determined that his drunken father was unfit. The foster home route made him tougher and nastier, not nicer, and he ended up in the elite SAS force of New Zealand.

Before entering the service, he had passed through Riverbend just in time to be accused of his father's murder. Ultimately, he was not charged because the coroner ruled his father died of suffocation from being in a watery ditch. The fact that he had been beaten and was there in the first place became a cloud that would linger over Cullen's head.

So the 'black cloud,' plus his wildness as a child, made Cullen the original bad boy of Riverbend. Now, he is back to get his ranch is shape and sell out.

Rachel Sinclair has returned to Riverbend to open a hair salon and to nurse her wounds from her failured marriage. After her mother died in childbirth, her father and four brothers became overprotective and, not wanting to expose her to tough ranch life, exiled her at a very early age to an aunt in Auckland.

These two people, accustomed to rejection, meet for the first time when Cullen rescues her from a mugger in an alley near her business. It is unrealized lust at first sight, and future meetings arise from the fact that Cullen takes in Dane Trask, the adolescent mugger and gives him a job on his ranch.

It is this act that sets in motion the unresolved issues of the death of Cullen's father, and the romance that will ignite between Cullen and Rachel.

Fiona Brand builds realistic, lively characters who have real depth. Cullen's Bride is well structured, the dynamics of each scene are varied, and the scenes transition seamlessly. Brand's effective use of strong visual imagery makes the reader yearn to visit New Zealand.

Her writing casts a spell that draws you into life in Riverbend in general and the Logan home specifically. My hope is that Fiona Brand has a large multi-book contract with Silhouette.

--Thea Davis

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