Sara and the Rogue by Deloras Scott
(Harlequin Hist., $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29190-6
**
It is difficult to enjoy a romance when the two main characters are not likable, the conflict is a series of misunderstandings and the entire relationship is based on lust. Sara and The Rogue is one of those stories.

The story starts with a prologue where Indians attack Sara, Brody (the Rogue in the title) and their men on the trail. While Sara sits in a cave overlooking an area where Brody is being held captive, Sara reminisces about how they got to this place.

Sara Miles is the owner of a freight company in Leavenworth, Kansas just before the railroads expanded into the west. Sara had grown up helping her father operate this company in a small town, and upon his death, she bought out another small company and moved the newer, bigger company to Leavenworth. Sara is used to men not taking her seriously and she fights for what she wants, using her wiles, her looks and her business acumen.

On the surface, this sounds like the sort of heroine I usually root for, but Sara is a bit of a snob. She is hot-tempered, so she makes mistakes that she incorrectly attributes to pride. She is shallow, easily taken in by compliments. And Sara is a poor judge of character, which allows insincere people, including a witchy woman named Patricia who uses Sara’s weaknesses to her advantage, to cause Sara to say and do stupid things.

The hero is Brody Hawkins, a competing freight company owner, and a man with a reputation for both charming the ladies and making money. Brody’s motivation comes from his poor white trash background, which makes him want to be an accepted part of upper crust society. On the one hand, he is charming. On the other, he is a ruthless businessman who goes after what he wants. And when he decides he wants Sara, he cons her into believing he cares for her, when all he wants is Sara in his bed.

Leavenworth is such a small community that its growing but small society element accept both Sara and Brody and thus they are constantly thrown together. Their relationship is full of machinations, sexual parrying and distrust, which is fueled by the spiteful Patricia and gossip from others.

Eventually, Sara and Brody succumb to their lust and enter into an affair. More misinformation leads to a hateful argument, ending up in a wager on a freight delivery race. The wager is money and contacts for her business if Sara wins, against the loss of her company to Brody if he wins. This race leads to the cave and the story’s eventual conclusion.

When an author uses the prologue to set the scene, I expect more of the background than what was there. The prologue implies that Brody and Sara are in love and yet, there were parts that involved arguments and accusations that made me wonder if they really did even like each other. That feeling never left me as I finished reading the book.

I have a hard time enjoying a romance where so much of the interactions and love-building scenes are arguments full of suspicion. If you really have doubts about someone so much, how can you LOVE him or her? I cannot understand what Sara and Brody love about each other, but I can agree they deserve each other.

What makes this book palatable is about 63 pages in the middle that hints at what could have been a great romance between Sara and Brody. Although getting to this scene is full of the lies that I disliked, once there, I was engaged in the story. Working together to help a horse accept Sara demonstrates what fun their relationship could be. The two characters show signs of actually caring for each other, rather than themselves, for these brief-shining moments.

If the hint of what could be in a small part of a story is enough to whet your appetite, then give Sara and the Rogue a try. Otherwise, keep looking to find a much better romance.

--Shirley Lyons


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