The Vow by Linda Lael Miller
(Pocket, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-671-00399-2
****
Even if you are not a western fan, take The Vow to read Miller's latest. The characters are all larger than life, caught in almost unbelievable situations. Everything in this book seems to be done in the extreme, but perhaps that's why it works. It is an easy read, long on humor and sexual tension, but kind of short on detail that doesn't directly impact the plot. And sometimes, that's not all bad, is it?

On July 4, 1878, the citizens of Parable, Nevada witness the return of Annabel Latham McKiege. Accompanied by the United States Calvary and her retinue of pets, she confronts her husband Gabriel on the steps of the Samhill Saloon. This is Annabel's first appearance in over twelve years. She finds Gabe where she expects him to be with her dreaded rival Miss Julia Sermon. Miss Julia is the owner of the saloon and patroness of the ladies of easy virtue who make a living there.

Impulsive, imperious, and passionate, Annabel left Gabe 12 years ago taking their son, Nicholas, with her. Illness had claimed their infant daughter Suzannah and unable to share her grief with Gabe, she fled. Settling in New England, 8 year old Nicholas was stubborn and persuasive enough to convince Annabel he would run away if he couldn't return to Nevada. So Annabel let him return. The ensuing years for her were apparently spent flitting from the US to England in the manner of our new age jetsetter. She has returned to Parable to secure a divorce from Gabe so she can be more than a spectator on the social scene.

Gabe says no to the divorce. Having not planned for this contingency, Annabel is at a loss for something to do, until she starts hearing the rumors circulating about Nicholas. There have been several major unsolved crimes, and becoming aware of the dregs of humanity with whom Nicholas is associating, Annabel swings into action. She is going to save her beloved son, and enlists Gabe's support in this. She fears Nicholas is involved but is undaunted in her support and love. Nicholas is so far from a loving son that he calls his mother Miss Annabel.

Gabe is a handsome, staid millionaire, drawing his revenues from cattle and his silver mines. Stubborn as Annabel is impulsive; the two fight their way through adversity. En route other players emerge. There is Olivia, a new schoolteacher who arrives in town and boards with the formidable Jessie, who is Gabe's sister. And of course, Miss Julia always lingers in the background. Charlie, the Indian cook is a perfect counterpoint to the snob Jeffrey Braithewaite. Jeff is from the impoverished landed gentry who has shown up to take Annabel back to England.

The plot line of this tale is as quirky and as boisterous as the people. In fact, they move in harmony. It is a story where the intentions of the characters are always clear, but their motives rarely so. It is a story that showcases a talented author's ability to perfectly balance strong characters within a strong plot.

Trying to anticipate this plot was a waste of effort since I missed it by a mile the first time. When I reread this book, I'll be able to do what I should have done the first time just enjoy the characters.

--Thea Davis


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