The Best Man

Bride of Willow Creek

I Do, I Do, I Do

Prairie Moon

Shotgun Wedding

Silver Lining

A Stranger's Wife

 
Foxfire Bride by Maggie Osborne
(Ivy, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-8041-1992-9
****
The kick-ass heroines of today’s Silhouette Bombshell line and Lovespell’s 2176 series can claim Maggie Osborne’s historical heroines as their spiritual ancestors. Tough, competent and independent, Osborne’s leading ladies can shoot a bear dead or ford a raging river with nary a qualm. They’re often down on their luck, but never down and out. Their gritty realism is the reason that I never miss a Maggie Osborne release, even though I usually eschew historical romance. Not surprisingly, Foxfire Bride introduces readers to another memorable heroine.  

It’s a long, dangerous journey from the Nevada territory to Denver, but Matthew Tanner hires the woman known only as Fox to scout a direct route across the mountains in three months. To make matters even more treacherous, Tanner is transporting fifty thousands dollars in gold coins to ransom his father from greedy kidnappers. Accompanied only by two shady-looking guards and Fox’s elderly partner Peaches, the group faces dangers from Indians, robbers, wild animals and Mother Nature herself. Confronted with numerous imminent threats, the turmoil of the ongoing Civil War seems distant and abstract.  

Fox needs the money Tanner promises since her sideline ice cutting business is faltering, but she also has her own personal reasons for wanting to go to Denver. After a lifetime of hand-to-mouth living, cared for only by the grizzled Peaches, Fox wants to kill the stepfather who stole her inheritance. She’s sure to be hanged for murdering the wealthy sonofabitch, but nothing will stop her quest for revenge, not even her unexpected attraction to Tanner.  

For his part, Tanner is fascinated by Fox’s courage and spirit, but he knows that his father would condemn a serious relationship between them. Since he has spent years trying in vain to win his father’s approval, he can’t imagine taking a step that would alienate him irrevocably. But Fox and Tanner are both keeping secrets that make a love affair between them even more doomed than it would appear on the surface.  

Fox is a vintage Osborne heroine. She’s not afraid of Indians or men twice her size, but she doesn’t know what to do the first time a man gives her flowers. Tanner pales slightly in comparison, but although he’s wealthy he’s no dandy, he proves his strength numerous times during the journey and isn’t afraid to let a woman call the shots when her expertise is needed. Fox and Tanner’s developing relationship is in turn sexy, hilarious and poignant; there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that they will live happily ever after once they overcome the numerous obstacles facing them. Foxfire Bride is also enriched by interesting secondary characters, most notably the two men of dubious integrity hired to guard Tanner’s gold. You’re never sure if they’re going to cross the line into hero or villain territory, and that uncertainty provides the book with intriguing tension.  

There is one aspect of the plot that strains the reader’s credibility. Both Tanner and Fox omit key information about their lives a little too conveniently until the novel’s climax. It’s not as bad as a dreaded clichéd Big Secret or Big Misunderstanding, but it’s hard to believe the truth wouldn’t have emerged sooner without the artificial delay imposed by the author.  

But if you can suspend your disbelief over that plot convenience, you’ll be charmed by a funny, sweet, sexy love story jam-packed with excitement and adventure. Besides, it’s easy to appreciate a book whose dedication to the author’s husband – “they’ve all been love letters to you, cowboy” – is obvious proof that true love exists in real life as well as in romance novels.  

--Susan Scribner


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