Bright Morning Star

Raven's Bride

The First Time by Kathryn Fox
(Zebra Ballad, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6731-3
Kudos to Kathryn Fox for penning a romance novel heroine that pretty much defies all convention. Maggie Hayes is beautiful, but thatís the extent of her feminine charms. And Colin Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has his work cut out for him to help her become something more.

Colin joined the Mounties as an escape from a painful past. Trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, he blames himself for the death of his fiancťe in a riding accident, though it was her own headstrong behavior that led to it. He has left his family behind in Ottawa and ridden west to a new life. Or so he hopes.

One of the Mountiesí top priorities is destroying the bootleg liquor camps that are making money selling hooch to the Indians. A nighttime raid on a whiskey operation is successful in destroying many gallons of the stuff, but there is a casualty. A young woman is brought back to the fort, desperately ill, and Colin canít ignore his oath. Heíll do his best to heal her.

Maggie Hayes is the daughter of a rough bootlegger. Raised on the frontier, she can drive a team, curse like a drunken sailor, and ride with the best of them. Just donít ask her to wear a dress or act like a lady. Maggie hasnít the faintest idea how to do any of that and she doesnít care. Until she meets the handsome doctor who has tended her so gently. Maggie feels the lack of feminine training, yet resists Colinís attempts to teach her a different way of life. This self-preservation instinct will get in the way of their budding romance.

The First Time is a sweet, straightforward romance between two mismatched characters. Maggie, with her gruff bluster and palpable longing, is utterly sympathetic. Who among us hasnít resisted change for fear of making a fool of ourselves? Itís a motivation thatís easy to understand. Colin, for his part, is bemused by his attraction to this woman. Sheís rough, untutored, brash. Yet he wants her, and gradually he begins to view her abilities and plain speaking with a fresh eye. Perhaps sheís just the perfect woman for a man making a new start.

What charmed me the most in this story was the way the author kept the characters true to their origins. Without giving away too much, let me say that Maggieís core remains honest to who and what she is, and Colin ends up compromising as much as Maggie. It would have been easy to make this into a Cinderella transformation story, but the author wisely resists.

The secondary characters are obvious setups for the other two books planned in The Mounties series, and donít make much impression. The setting of the fort was vivid, though, and one can almost smell the prairie grasses. The First Time offers a refreshing change of pace for a western romance.

--Cathy Sova

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