Renegade Heart by Amy J. Fetzer
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6678-3
Although Amy J. Fetzerís work is previously unfamiliar to me, I thoroughly enjoyed the brief glimpse into this authorís imagination and wit that Renegade Heart provides. The combination of heart-pounding excitement and extremely well written characterizations gave this reader one of the best romantic pirate tales Iíve read in a long time.

The East India Shipping Company has been unable to discover the identity of their nemesis - a pirate known only as the Black Angel. Raiden Montgomery, the man behind the Black Angel, realizes his time to die will most likely come sooner rather than later, because thatís the reality of life as a pirate. In fact, late one evening in India, Raiden is sure heís reached that time as heís fighting East India soldiers who are close to defeating him.

Suddenly a beautiful woman smashes a jar over the head of one of the soldiers, making an escape possible for Raiden. However, Raiden isnít as ruthless as his reputation would have him be. He knows that this woman will now be in danger because she saved his life and decides to take her in her with him during his escape in order to escort her back to her lodgings. When she departs Raidenís company, without them fully explaining who the other is, and enters an expensive hotel, he realizes there might be more to this womanís purpose in India than he at first suspected. This suspicion is later confirmed when he sees Captain Atcheson and East India Director Barkmon, local foes of Raidenís and his men, show up at the hotel to speak with his savior.

Willa Delaney Peachwood, Lady Eastwick, has just unknowingly saved the life of a stranger, and may have unwittingly destroyed her chance to find her kidnapped son, Mason. Willa knows Alistar Eastwick believes his son is imperfect and wants no one to realize Mason ever lived. Alistar, a powerful man in the East India Shipping Company, has kidnapped Mason, and Willa thinks he means to leave Mason somewhere in the savage land of India to die. She needs the help of other powerful figures in the Company in order to track Alistarís movements. Now sheís blown what little chance she had by helping a stranger because she thought only to even the odds in his fight against those soldiers.

As Willa attempts to resume her search for Mason, she is once again unwillingly rescued by Raiden and his men, but this time she is the kidnap victim when Raiden decides to take her to his ship. When Willa realizes his identity and that she has no other choice, she asks Raiden to help her in the search for Mason. Raiden agreesÖfor a price. Even though Willa never married for love, she was never unfaithful to her husband. Can she ignore her vows and succumb to the attraction she and Raiden share in order to save her son?

When Raiden and Willa are together, the pages are filled with excitement, adventure, and a splash of humor. The length of the book allows the reader to experience their relationship, as it moves from shooting sparks and sizzling attraction into a more loving and tender relationship towards the end. Raiden is a typical fearless pirate unaware of his need for love and acceptance until Willa begins to make him care about life again. Willa is a loving mother conflicted by her need to find her son and her growing attraction to Raiden.

The one minor discrepancy that readers might dislike is Willaís independence and uncanny ability to escape danger, seemingly unscathed. More than once Willa was rescued at the last possible moment, leaving readers with moments of the usual pirate-rescuing-his-damsel-in-distress story. Hints of this are also found in the tearjerker ending, although this didnít distract me from enjoying it. The author is also quite adept at balancing Willaís frustration at being unable to find her son and eventual need to be with Raiden.

The glimpses readers are given into the thoughts of the "villains" was one aspect that I didnít particularly care for. This is particularly true of Alistar, who at the beginning is seen as a threat to everything Willa holds dear, but eventually fades into just a threatening memory. These seems particularly wasteful when the reader isnít allowed to hear directly from these people about why they are doing these things. Any knowledge of previous events is supplied by third-person comments from the primary characters. In fact, this particular crop of villains appear to be mere shadows that occasionally float into Raiden and Willaís adventure and then disappear again.

While the action is high and most of the characters contribute to the story, the enemies are more of a distraction than an addition to the plot. However, I still found that the romance aspect made Renegade Heart well worth the read.

--Kristy Hales

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