Cinnamon and Roses by Heidi Betts
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-4668-7
***
Heidi Betts' freshman romance is a historical novel set in Leavenworth, Kansas, 1880. If you like ultra-alpha heroes and spunky heroines, and you don't mind treading a well-worn path, plot-wise, this book may be right up your alley.

Rebecca, a seamstress, is barely making ends meet when Caleb Adams arrives in Leavenworth with his mistress, Sabrina, in tow. Sabrina orders a fancy gown from Rebecca, and when it's finished, Caleb refuses to pay what he considers an exorbitant price for it. Rebecca hotfoots it to the Adams Express office to demand payment in full. Caleb, who hadn't noticed this mousy-looking woman before, is taken aback at the change in her appearance when she's angry.

Soon he's fantasizing over Rebecca and trying to give his mistress money to return to New York. Rebecca has her own fantasies about Caleb. When they meet in person, however, they seem to infuriate each other. Caleb was disillusioned in love as a young man and considers all women to be scheming tramps. Can Rebecca possibly be different? Rebecca, raised in a whorehouse, left at thirteen rather than fall into her neglectful mother's profession. She trusts no man. So why is she so attracted to Caleb? What if he knew the truth about her background?

When Rebecca storms to Caleb's hotel to demand payment for a second gown ordered by Sabrina, she surprises Caleb in his bath, and in a moment of incredible wishi-washiness, finds herself flat on her back, having sex with this man she swears she despises. Caleb is stunned at her virginity, and when he apologizes and tries to pay for the gown, Rebecca assumes he thinks she's a whore.

And here is the crux of this book's problem. Caleb and Rebecca spend virtually the entire book assuming the worst of each other, again and again and again. He thinks she's a scheming tramp. She thinks he believes she's a tramp and is just using her. Rebecca and Caleb are thrown together by circumstance, and must make some sort of peace with each other. When threats on Rebecca's life begin to crop up, they must join forces.

Characters either work for readers or they don't, and reactions are largely personal. Both of these characters gave me problems. Rebecca falls into bed with Caleb at virtually any given opportunity (she can't help herself) and then is indignant when he calls her a tramp. (She also stomps her feet when she's angry, which made her seem more like a five-year-old than a grown woman.) Nevertheless, she has grit and is more than willing to take responsibility for her actions, which I found admirable.

Caleb fares less well. His "all women are scheming bitches" routine grew old after the first twenty pages. This is stock stuff, and it's worn pretty thin. Besides, it made him seem like an overgrown, sulking adolescent. How mature is it for a man to survive a disastrous relationship, then decide women are awful, and then surround himself with greedy mistresses just so he can hang onto his point? The third time he called Rebecca a whore, I gave up on him in disgust. No amount of groveling was going to redeem him, and I wanted nothing so much as for Rebecca to get away from him. In the end, this was not a couple I had much faith in.

However, readers who like the "cruel-alpha-hero-who-meets-a-good-woman-and-reforms" type of story might well enjoy this story. (Take note, Diana Palmer fans.) The secondary characters in the story fill out the plot well, and the author wisely makes no attempt to turn this into a mystery. The villain is obvious from the start.

Cinnamon and Roses offers plenty of promise. With more mature characters and a bit more originality in the plot, Heidi Betts will no doubt end up on readers' keeper shelves. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with next time.

--Cathy Sova


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