The Bride's Protector

Each Precious Hour

Heart of the Night

Her Baby, His Secret

Her Private Bodyguard

His Secret Duchess

Honor's Bride

Lady Sarah's Son

The Stranger She Knew

Renegade Heart by Gayle Wilson
(Harl. Int. #578, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-22578-4
Something very interesting happened at this year’s Rita Awards. The category for Romantic Suspense had some pretty heavy hitters: Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb, to name one. When the presenter opened the envelop and announced the winner, there was a gasp of surprise and then loud applause. Gayle Wilson had won the award for her Harlequin Intrigue, The Bride’s Protector. The winning book was the first in the “Men of Mystery” series Wilson has been writing about the men of the CIA’s now dissolved External Security force. Now, on the heels of her victory, Wilson has published another installment of this very suspenseful series, Renegade Heart.

The External Security force had been charged with protecting the nation against a threatening and unstable world. Its methods had pushed the boundaries of accepted actions and the powers that be had decided that its existence was simply too politically dangerous. Its dedicated members had been dismissed, after giving them new identities. Their integration into the real world had not gone completely smoothly, but no one suffered more than Drew Evans.

Two years earlier, Drew had been accused of murder in rural Tennessee where he had settled. Without a past, “Martin Holcomb” had been unable to defend himself, when a local man fingered him as the murderer. He had served two years in a maximum security penitentiary. Then, fate intervenes. The prison transport on which he is riding is in an accident. Drew takes the opportunity to melt into the surroundingwoods. He heads off to find Tommy Cannon, the man whose perjured testimony sent him to prison.

As Drew stakes out the Cannon’s remote cabin, he sees Cannon’s wife Maggie and his daughter. He doesn’t see Tommy, but Maggie sees him. She forces him back to the cabin at rifle point and forces him to level with her. Drew explains that her husband lied; he also learns that Tommy is dead. When he tried to prevent Maggie from calling the sheriff, she shoots him.

But Maggie doesn’t call the sheriff; instead, she tends the wounded man. She has concluded that his story may well be true. Two years earlier, when their daughter was critically ill, Tommy had found the money to save Laurie’s life. She thought he had borrowed it, but no one had come forward to demand repayment after Tommy’s death in a car accident. It seems horribly probable that, in order to save their beloved daughter, Tommy had conspired to send an innocent man to prison.

As Drew recovers from his wound, he asks Maggie to help him try to uncover the truth. Drew had always believed that the CIA had conspired against him. But as he and Maggie review the events surrounding the crime, it begins to appear that Drew may have simply been the convenient patsy to cover up some local dirty doings. Drew and Maggie find themselves in danger as they try to discover what really happened.

Wilson has a real talent for combining mystery and suspense. The mystery consists of the hero’s and heroine’s puzzling out the truth; the suspense includes the danger of the local sheriff’s discovering Drew’s presence and the danger that arises as the two get closer to what really happened. I always know when an author has hooked me when I’m afraid to turn the page to see what happens next. I was afraid to turn quite a few pages of Renegade Heart.

Wilson also succeeds very well with the romantic aspects of her story. It takes a talented author to convince the reader that a couple can meet, spar, become acquainted, and fall in love in just a few short days. Wilson makes Maggie’s growing attraction for Drew seem absolutely true; likewise, she shows us why and how Drew begins to love Maggie. And she does sexual tension real well.

One of the downsides of category romances is their short shelf life. Thus readers who want to discover why Gayle Wilson’s fellow authors awarded her their highest encomium face a problem. The Bride’s Protector can only be found by haunting the used book stores or the online booksellers. However, Renegade Heart is a prime example of Wilson’s talent and shows why she has garnered so many fans and so much respect.

--Jean Mason

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