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Robber Bride by Deborah Simmons
(Harlequin, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29055-1
Robber Bride is a modestly enjoyable tale that begins well but eventually stagnates under a plot that crawls where it should sprint. When the author keeps things moving, the ride is fun. But unfortunately, for much of Robber Bride the hero and heroine do nothing but question each other's motives.

The third in the author's series on the DeBurgh brothers of Merry Olde England, this one centers on Simon, the strapping warrior of the clan who is never happier than when splitting heads. Thick as the proverbial stumps that litter the forest chase near Baddersly Castle, Simon is livid when, on his way to that location, his troop is attacked and captured by a band of forest-dwelling renegades. Adding insult to injury is the fact that these not-so-merry men are led by a woman with a penchant for dressing like Robin Hood.

The attack is more of an assault on Simon's pride than anything else. The woman, Bethia, mistook them for mercenaries hired by the man holding her ancestral home, and her father, hostage. Despite his indignation and anger at her behavior, Simon is fascinated by Bethia and can hardly control himself when she is near. His natural instinct is to protect her; her natural instinct is to fight him. She thinks he's an oaf; he thinks she's crazy. Yet Simon can't stand the inactivity of the Castle he's protecting in his brother's name, so he takes to the forest to aid Bethia in her attempt to regain her home.

Up to this point, Robber Bride is fast-paced and entertaining. But it grinds to a halt when Simon begins questioning his feelings for Bethia. And questioning. And hey, how 'bout some more questioning. He goes 'round and 'round in circles trying to figure out what it is about this woman, falling into a lovesick malaise he is loathe to acknowledge despite the efforts of his men-at-arms and castle steward to convince him of the truth. He bellows in outrage at the drop of a hat and becomes tiresome.

While the forest band works on digging a tunnel into Bethia's family estate, she too has plenty of time to sit around and emote (although not nearly as much as Simon). Determined to remain an independent woman at all costs, Bethia is as stubborn as the man she would rather pretend does not exist. Surprisingly in the midst of all this angst, the sexual chemistry between the two flares and fairly sets the pages of the book on fire. But even these powerful sparks aren't enough to keep the events from meandering to a all-too-pat conclusion.

There are entertaining elements of Robber Bride, particularly lovemaking spirited enough to put hair on the heroine's chest. But those brief moments aren't enough to sustain a premise that screams for vine-swinging action ala Errol Flynn. What we get is more like Kevin Costner with a head cold.

--Ann McGuire

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