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The Virgin & the Outlaw
by Eileen Wilks
(Silhouette Intimate Moments #857, $4.25, PG)
ISBN 0-373-07857-9
****
Silhouette author Eileen Wilks marks her foray into the Intimate Moments series with a memorable entry, The Virgin and the Outlaw. Although lacking panache in its title (which the author may have had nothing to do with) she makes up for it with an outstanding, carefully researched story of love and survival in a Mexican mountain range.

Rafe Stormwalker fought his way through foster homes, the Army's Special Forces and the business world to the life of a wealthy entrepreneur. One day, Rafe makes a shocking discovery in his warehouse: the body of his foster brother who runs his export business. Rafe immediately realizes he has been set up to take the blame for the murder.

Without his knowledge, his firm had been used by a Mexican drug cartel for the transshipment of drugs. Rafe had recently detected this and the complicity of his foster brother and was working to end it. Knowing the only evidence that will exonerate him is in Mexico, he flees the scene just ahead of the sheriff. Without fail, actions like this result in immediate arrest warrants being issued and for Rafe, it was for murder.

Rafe next appears in handcuffs and leg irons at a small airport in Mexico accompanied by a federal marshal. The marshal is anxious to get in the air and head north because they were intercepted by drug minions en route to a different airport. His partner had been shot, and for his own safety as much as his prisoner, he had diverted to this airport.

At 27, Gillie Appleby has been a licensed pilot for eleven years. Her father had been an itinerant pilot and they had roamed the world together since she was 12. Now working as a charter pilot for Ventura Aviation and just returning from another flight, Gillie nevertheless agrees as a favor to fly Rafe and the marshal to Texas.

Airborne and more than midway into the journey, Gillie switches to the auxiliary gas tanks and immediately burns out one engine. With exceptional skill, Gillie manages to switch the remaining engine back to the main tank, and fly the plane to a crash landing. The impact kills the marshal.

This leaves Gill and Rafe. Their personalities could not be more diverse. Rafe was introduced to her as an accused murderer and he has exhibited a venomous personality. Gillie, on the other hand, is his antithesis. Sunny, ingenuous and inexperienced, she is out of her league with Rafe. And there is the immediate problem survival at high altitude with little food and water. When they discover the plane fuel had been sabotaged, Rafe realizes the tentacles of the drug cartel have extended to this lonely mountain ridge, and they can't wait around to be found by the wrong people.

At this point, the novel starts operating on three levels: the dynamics of the relationship between Rafe and Gillie, the challenge of survival at this altitude in a remote mountain range and the actions of the drug gangs involved.

Book length alone would constrain the detailed development of one of these subplots. Wilks chose to focus on the developing love story of Rafe and Gillie and their survival. She does the survival bit very well, but the casualty is the drug involvement, resulting in actions that felt somewhat contrived and pat as the conclusion was reached.

Frankly, the differences between Rafe and Gillie were so extreme that I sometimes thought of them as Pollyanna and Godzilla, rather than The Virgin and The Outlaw. It is to the author's credit that she was able to persuade me to believe in their developing romantic relationship.

Kudos to an emerging author who should be around for a long time.

--Thea Davis


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