Hannah’s Vow

Lady Gypsy

The Mercenary’s Kiss
by Pam Crooks
(Harl. Historical, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-29318-6
Pam Crooks has moved over to Harlequin with The Mercenary’s Kiss, a good story about two people on a mission. The love story is strong while the action seems a little far-fetched at times, but not too far fetched to ruin the tale.

Elena Malone is part of her father’s medicine show in the late 1890’s. They perform and have acts like in a circus, followed by her father selling his famous elixir – made from the secrets of the ancients. One night, Elena is returning to the wagon to put away the money and she is accosted by a Mexican named Ramon, who steals her money and rapes her. She ends up pregnant. Two years later, she is still with her father’s troupe when Ramon and his friends come upon them and attack their wagon. He is now a part of a revolutionary group from Mexico that comes to Texas to pillage and steal. When he sees Elena and her son, he recognizes her and realizes the boy is his. Ramon kidnaps Nicky and leaves both Elena and her father for dead.

Jeb Carson and his friend Creed are returning from some work they have been doing for the U S Government. They are ready to stop playing the dangerous game of spying and both are ready to settle down. Jeb is the son of an Army general, but the past has created a rift in their relationship and he feels like the only family he has is Creed. Creed has decided to return to California to his family and Jeb is going with him. They come upon the destroyed wagon. Elena is determined to go after her son. Creed agrees to take her father to San Antonio to see a doctor and Jeb agrees, reluctantly, to ride with Elena after her son.

The trail they follow is one full of danger, but these two characters are ready for the experience. Elena has learned she must be strong. She is smart and doesn’t fall into the trap often seen in these types of stories. She keeps her head, and even when feeling emotional is quick-thinking and ready to take on the world. She grows to love Jeb and as their friendship develops, he teaches her what love with a man should be like.

Jeb is an honorable man, despite some of the things he has had to do in the name of war. He grows to care for Elena and recognizes her love for her son is a valid reason to seek him out. Jeb has learned to act on intuition and gut feeling, and he follows those instincts to get them through this adventure.

The other characters are more thought out than one dimensional, but not completely developed. There is a slight attempt to help you understand why Ramon would steal his son and is so passionate about the revolution, but not enough to eliminate the fact that he is the bad guy and deserves his fate. Other characters are introduced that are involved in a gun deal and in helping Elena and Jeb rescue Nicky. These characters are not developed, but don’t really need to be for their part in the story.

The major reason why this tale does not rise to recommended status is the pacing. I found myself wishing the story would move along faster. There are a lot of pages full of Elena and Jeb contemplating their plight, their growing love and the important reasons why they act the way they do. While this helps the reader understand the characters, it doesn’t create the tension needed to keep a reader turning the pages. I had to convince myself to pick up the book a few times in order to finish it.

The tale itself is a little on the side of things being “too good to be true”. Some of the action is pretty convenient and some seems a little implausible. For instance, Jeb carries a surgeon’s kit and at separate places in the story, he stitches up a wound and removes a bullet with no repercussions – no fever, no swelling, no infection. At another place, he gets a bout of malaria and the special elixir cures him after just a day. But the ending is strong and the love story ultimately enjoyable.

The Mercenary’s Kiss is a good western tale if you are looking for love in an unusual circumstance and two characters that are intelligent and engaging to watch fall in love.

--Shirley Lyons

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