Rafferty's Bride by Mary Burton
(Harl. Hist.#632, $5.25, R) 0-373-29232-5
*****
Civil War era romances can often be grueling to read. While the event that connects the hero and heroine in Rafferty's Bride is certainly very serious, the relationship between them shows moments of gentle humor that lighten the mood.

Meredith Carter is a Southern woman married to a Confederate soldier. Her Northern-born uncle is a doctor who tries to visit and help the Union soldiers in the Confederate prison camp. She reluctantly agrees to take a treatment to one of the seriously injured soldiers when her uncle becomes ill. While she is at the camp treating the injured man, she hears that the prisoners have planned a prison break for that night. Travis Rafferty, the ranking Union soldier in the camp warns her that if she betrays them, he will hunt her down no matter how long it takes. That night during the escape, someone alerts the guards and a number of the Union soldiers are killed.

Two years later, the war is over and Meredith is living in Texas. Her husband was killed in the war and she moved with her uncle to help him with his patients. Uncle Ezra has recently died, but Meredith has continued to help care for the people of Trail's End as they await the arrival of the new doctor. Returning from such a visit, she finds Travis Rafferty in her home waiting to take her back to Washington so that she will stand trial for betraying the Union prisoners.

Meredith tries to convince Travis that she did not betray anyone. As they are arguing, two scruffy men arrive and ask for her and then try to shoot her. Travis intervenes and stops them, but he is seriously injured. Now he has to rely on someone he believes is a murderer to keep from dying.

The interplay between Meredith and Travis is wonderful. Travis believes that it is his responsibility to bring to justice the person who ultimately caused the deaths of so many of his company. At the same time, he means justice from a trial, not from a bullet from a stranger, so he defends her against the two men. Meredith quickly figures out that Travis is a very fair man, so she spends time talking and reasoning with him to try to convince him to look again at the evidence. She trusts him to do the right thing.

Travis struggles with his attraction to her because not only her words but also her actions begin to erode his certainty that she is the betrayer. The author allows the change in Travis's attitude toward Meredith to develop at a natural pace. He doesn't go from not believing her at all one day to completely believing her the next day. This also leads to a very nice physical relationship between the two of them.

The descriptions of the town and Meredith's connections with the townspeople paint a picture of a friendly, small community. I particularly liked how they rally around her as further threats arrive.

I truly enjoyed this tale of two mature, upstanding people who have to work through a barrier to find each other. It was a very satisfying read.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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