Love by Chocolate

Love Me Tomorrow

Mystic Dreamer

Texas' Embrace

Love’s Bounty by Rosanne Bittner
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76596-5
Callie Hobbs witnessed her mother being raped and murdered. She is determined to see the five attackers punished for their crimes. When bounty hunter Christian Mercy brings three killers to Rawlins, Wyoming for hanging, in May of 1884, eighteen-year-old Callie offers him her ranch in return for his tracking down her mother’s murderers. Callie had hidden in a wood box during the attack and can identify the men so it will be necessary for her to accompany Chris as he tracks them. Because of her experience, she finds the thought of a man’s touch repulsive and vows she will never marry.

Chris is an educated man from a wealthy family, but the vicious murder of his young wife and daughter by unknown culprits changed his life. He abandoned the life he’d known and has embarked on a mission to bring criminals to justice -- particularly those who have preyed on women and children. He is reluctant to have the young woman-child Callie accompany him on his travels but recognizes the need for her identification.

During the weeks they will spend together on the trail, they will encounter a variety of people, both good and bad, and meet the challenges of a hard land from rattlesnake bites to a cattle stampede. Slowly they will heal each other’s pain and find love and desire.

Many romances set in the American West present a idealized view of the period. Rosanne Bittner’s westerns have a rougher edge and more realistic characters than most, and Love’s Bounty with a plot vaguely reminiscent of True Grit, is no exception.

Callie Hobbs is no frail, dainty lady. She’s had little schooling and has run a ranch on her own. She talks tough and lives the same way. She hopes her mother’s murderers will endure a gruesome end -- she doesn’t want them to die of a quick and easy broken neck but a long lingering suffocation at the end of a rope -- and she doesn’t mellow over the course of the tale. Frontier justice could be quick and hard, and Callie doesn’t want it any other way.

A tough heroine who doesn’t flinch at the sight of blood and can handle most any crisis will appeal to readers who have been bothered by the rancher’s daughter ultra-feminine heroine who dresses in gingham and lace and spends most of her time planning barn dances. (Don’t pay any attention to the stylized cover which features a model wearing an off-the-shoulder, low-cut dress. Callie’s far too sensible for that kind of foolishness and wears pants throughout most of the book.)

Christian Mercy (you’ve got to wonder what kind of parents would stick a poor unsuspecting baby with a name that will subject him to ridicule his whole life) is a less believable character than Callie. It takes some doing to believe that a former English teacher with a high I.Q. (yes, Chris mentions his I.Q., a term which didn’t come into use for another thirty-five years) who’s been studying for a Ph.D. at Harvard will suddenly turn into a lightning-fast gunslinger with exceptional survival skills and head out to the wide open spaces of the American West to make a name for himself as a bounty hunter -- one with high ideals, you understand. He’s the classic Western hero in a white hat, but his idealized character doesn’t fit well with the more realistic character of Callie.

My major reservation about Love’s Bounty is that I found the romance unconvincing. It’s not hard to believe that Callie would fall in love with Chris. She’s known the worst of men, and they don’t get any better than Chris -- well-spoken, considerate, skillful, and a gorgeous hunk besides. Callie’s gradual progression from fear of men to love for Chris is very credible.

But other than propinquity, I didn’t see much reason for Chris to fall for Callie. He’s aware of the fourteen years’ difference in their ages and initially doubts she’s really eighteen. Her lack of education and ungrammatical speech irritate him. It seems more reasonable that Chris would recognize he’d put his devils to rest and head back home to resume the live he’d known leaving Callie and his career as a bounty hunter behind him. Moreover, his feelings for his dead wife seem too strong to allow for a new love. The trip to Boston to reconcile the two loves in his life failed to convince me that he’d really put that part of his life behind him.

In order for this love to endure, Callie clearly is going to have to make some changes and conform to society’s strictures. That would be a shame because it’s Callie’s grit and determination that invigorates the whole story.

As long as Chris and Callie are battling bad guys and rough terrain, Love’s Bounty is an enjoyable story. I easily got caught up in the narrative and appreciated the uncommon heroine, but it works better as a western adventure story than as a romance.

--Lesley Dunlap

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