The Countess Misbehaves

The Princess Goes West

The Scandalous Miss Howard

The Seduction of Ellen

Naughty Marietta by Nan Ryan
(Mira, $6.50, R) ISBN 1-55166-676-6
Naughty Marietta doesn't have much of a plot, and what little it has doesn't make a lot of sense. Because of this, the story's sense of fun sometimes seems silly. Even the prodigious sex between the hero and heroine gets silly.

Naughty Marietta begins with a wealthy dying man snatching Cole Heflin from the hangman's noose, literally. Maxwell Lacy knows he doesn't have much longer to live; before he dies he wants to see his granddaughter, Marietta.

Lacy thinks Cole is the man that can make his dying wish come true. Cole, a Confederate soldier, was blamed for the burning of a town during the Civil War. On the run and unable to find work to support the family of his deceased best friend, Cole decides to hold up a Texas bank. He gets caught.

Now Cole can save his life and raise enough money to take care of his friend's family. All he has to do is transport one woman from Denver to Galveston.

Cole's hopes that Marietta will accompany him of her own freewill are quickly dashed after he meets her and tells her about her grandfather. Marietta has no love for the grandfather she has never met, a man who turned his back on her and her mother. Besides, Marietta is busy studying opera. She is going to be famous and she has a rich middle-aged man who will do anything for her and expects very little in return. Taylor Maltese has more money than he knows what to do with, and he adores spending money on his beautiful Marietta.

Maltese foots the bill for everything. He even pays people to attend Marietta's performances, because even though she is beautiful and can act, she can't sing. Or to be more accurate, she can sing but few would actually pay for the privilege.

Maltese is also very protective of Marietta. He has his men watching her all the time so that no harm will come to her. Despite her bodyguards, Cole manages to steal Marietta away. Maltese sends his men after them.

I 'm not familiar with the laws of the time, but it's difficult to imagine that anyone can just nullify a death sentence. Even if Lacy could get Cole's war record expunged, Cole would still be guilty of trying to rob a bank.

While I have nothing against frequent sex between consenting adults (even on horseback; especially while on horseback), I do wish the dialog hadn't been quite so, well, silly. I burst out laughing at some of the lines, and I lost count of how many times Marietta murmurs in ecstasy, "Cole, Cole."

On the other hand, the author is looking to develop a sense of fun and not taking her story or her characters too seriously. Obviously the fact that everyone but Marietta knows that she has no singing talent is a jab at Marietta: that she is vain, selfish and not the sharpest tool in the shed. For Cole, Marietta's singing is the equivalent of taking a cold shower.

While I liked the sense of fun, I wanted more. As Cole and Marietta make their way back to Texas, Marietta is supposed to be changing into a less selfish person. It's hard to see. A large helping of character development for both Marietta and Cole would have made their journey more interesting and their ending more believable.

--Judith Flavell

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