An Unlikely Outlaw

A Wanted Woman

An Innocent Mistress
by Rebecca Wade
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81619-9
Sophie LaRue is a female undercover agent for the Secret Service. Her code name is “Twilight’s Ghost”, and her specialty is apprehending criminals. In a contemporary novel, this would hardly raise an eyebrow, but this story is set in 1878, making the plot premise unlikely, at best. However, for readers willing to ignore historical facts, An Innocent Mistress is an entertaining read with a steamy attraction between the two leads.

Jarrod Stone has watched his youngest brother, Holden, be convicted of aiding and abetting an outlaw gang. Holden will spend the next six years in prison, unless Jarrod can find the agent who had Holden arrested on the fourteen-year-old warrant. Jarrod has no idea who “Twilight’s Ghost” is, but the man is rumored to have a beautiful mistress - one Sophia Vanessa LaRue. When Sophia refuses to help Jarrod, he kidnaps her in order to flush out her lover.

Jarrod is a self-made millionaire. Once he was a young boy, begging for food at the gates of the LaRue mansion. He remembers Sophia as a kind little girl who brought him apples and other fruit. Now the roles are reversed. Sophia lost nearly everything at the hands of Jarrod’s father, who apparently swindled Sophia’s grandmother out of a fortune. With her grandmother dead from the strain, Sophia was sent to live at a convent school. Now she’s a grown woman, determined to hold onto her home by using her wits - and her talents as an agent of the law.

Jarrod installs Sophia in a luxurious home and caters to her every need. She resists him as long as she can, but eventually gives in to the need to eat. Her friend Maggie visits, bringing news that Sophia’s home will be auctioned off for back taxes unless Sophia can pay them within three weeks. Meanwhile, there’s a counterfeiter afoot in town. If Sophia can solve that mystery, there will be a five hundred dollar reward. Now Sophia’s challenge is to escape from Jarrod’s clutches. If she can force herself to leave him, that is.

The sexual tension between the two leads is the strongest part of the story. Jarrod is quickly awash in tongue-dragging lust for this woman, and when he decides to seduce her, Sophia doesn’t stand a chance. Not that she’s all that interested in evading him. For a woman who is supposedly a widow (part of her cover) and experienced as a mistress, Sophia’s tentative, but enthusiastic response has Jarrod completely bewildered. When they do finally give in to one another, it’s hot enough to scorch.

The rest of the plot has too many holes in it to stand up to much scrutiny. To begin with, there’s the idea that “Twilight’s Ghost” can do much to help Holden, who’s been tried and convicted by a jury. Then there’s the idea of a female Secret Service agent in 1878. The reward for the counterfeiter comes at an all-too-convenient spot in the book. And when Sophia does figure out how to escape from Jarrod under cover of darkness, she comes right back again - four nights in a row. Why wouldn’t she just go home? Like I said, the plot can’t be scrutinized that hard.

This is the first in a planned series of four novels about the Stone brothers. I’d be curious to see what the other three are up to, and whether Holden ever gets out of prison. Hopefully their stories won’t be quite as far-fetched or convenient.

An Innocent Mistress offers a steamy romance, if not a rock-solid plot. Consider it an entertaining read with the possibility of three interesting sequels.

--Cathy Sova

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