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The Hostage Bride by Jane Feather
(Harlequin, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-533-57890-1
****
The first installment in Jane Feather's new "Bride" trilogy is a rollicking good ride that consistently entertains with a strong story, a stalwart hero, and a feisty heroine. A higher degree of emotional depth between the two protagonists would have made this a keeper, but as it is, The Hostage Bride is a well-written, entertaining yarn that will satisfy romance fans who don't require a steady stream of hearts and flowers. The relationship between the hero and heroine is strictly no frills from the way their relationship develops, to the down and dirty quality of their extra curricular activities. That's not a criticism it is thoroughly in keeping with the temperaments of the characters that their lovemaking be rather on the athletic side.

Portia Worth is the niece of the Marquis of Granville. Born out of wedlock to the Marquis' dissolute half brother, Portia grows up in gaming hells and taverns, an outspoken, rail-thin waif whose only connection to anything remotely female is a childhood meeting with her cousins Olivia and Phoebe (the subjects of the future "Bride" books.)

Following the death of her father, Portia is traveling to the Marquis' stronghold when she is briefly taken prisoner by Rufus Decatur, the sworn enemy of Granville. As a boy Rufus watched in horror as the old Marquis traded away the life of his one-time friend, Rufus' father, for the favor of a king. With his ancestral lands stripped from the family and forced to live as an outlaw, Rufus has nurtured a life-long grudge against the Granvilles. Now, with England on the verge of civil war, he sees his chance to right past wrongs. Portia, however, was not in his plans.

Headstrong and fearless, Portia makes a vivid impression on Rufus before he sets her free. But Portia is soon back on his doorstep, thanks to an unfortunate mix-up in a kidnapping plot. Initially, Rufus is annoyed with the boyish, talkative Portia. But she's as quick-witted as he and he can no more resist the fiery redhead than he can stop fighting to win back his family lands.

Portia's Granville roots leave Rufus doubting her loyalties on occasion, no matter how often she proves herself. A poorly timed visit to her cousins behind castle walls during a siege doesn't help matters much. But Portia's ultimate battle is not to win Rufus' love, or to earn his trust, but to get him to understand that revenge isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

The Hostage Bride finds its footing in the details of day-to-day life as a soldier in an outlaw camp. As Portia settles in and begins to experience the first true home she's ever known, we see how the hard life she led has left an unconscious need for family and acceptance. With Rufus at her side she settles quite easily into a routine that brings out the best in her character strength, loyalty, and passion. These two are so well matched that the author did the wise thing in bringing them together quickly though I did find myself wishing for more emotional intensity between the two. There just seemed to be something lacking in that department the emotional connection between the two isn't nearly as strong as the physical one. It's there, it just isn't given much room to grow.

Still, The Hostage Bride is bound to please the legions of Feather fans ready to sink their teeth into the spirited adventure with a memorable heroine.

--Ann McGuire


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