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One Silent Night by Debra Cowan
(Silh. Int. Mom. #899, $4.25, R) ISBN 0-373-07899-4
****
Romance novels almost always require some kind of conflict between the hero and heroine that threatens their love. Often this conflict seems forced or implausible. But in the case of Debra Cowan's latest novel about the Garrett brothers of Oklahoma City, the barriers between Sam Garrett and Dallas Kittridge are both realistic and poignant.

Eighteen months before the story begins, Sam and Dallas had sought to comfort each other over the death of her husband and his partner. But neither could deal with the fact that what had started as a comforting embrace had led to a night of passion. Dallas could not accept that only two months after her husband's death she had made love to another man. Sam could not accept that he had been no more than a substitute for Brad in Dallas' eyes. Dallas, a U.S. marshal, had fled Oklahoma City. Now, she is back.

She is back because the witness she had been protecting was murdered. Feeling that she had abandoned her charge, she wants to help find the killer. And the detective in charge of the case is Sam Garrett. While it is not procedure for a marshal to get involved in solving a murder, the police department is suffering a manpower shortage because of virulent epidemic of flu. Sam's partner is out of commission. So, when Dallas offers to help, he finds it hard to say no. Even his boss accepts this departure from the rules.

Thrown together by the case which escalates into the search for a serial killer Sam and Dallas have to come to terms with their past and sort out how they feel about each other. The tension is palpable. The attraction is still there, if anything, stronger than ever. But both have been hurt and both have to deal with their guilt.

Their ambivalence about their relationship makes perfect sense. Sam blames himself for his partner's death; Dallas feels that she is somehow betraying her husband. Yet when they are together, the sparks fly. I mean, we are talking some heavy duty sexual tension here.

Cowan has set her love story against the background of a desperate effort to find the killer before he strikes again. The author provides a seemingly accurate description of the hard work that goes into solving this kind of crime.

Stylistically, One Silent Night depends heavily on the internal dialogue of the hero and heroine as they try to sort out their feelings. I sometimes find this level of angst distracting, but, given Sam's and Dallas' history, it worked well.

The book reacquaints the reader with the characters from the earlier books in this series and their presence adds a nice texture to the story. But this is Sam's and Dallas' book, and Cowan has created two fully realized and interesting characters.

One Silent Night kept me turning the pages. It has the intensity that I have come to expect but do not always find in the Intimate Romance line.

--Jean Mason


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