Natchez by Deb Crockett
(Domhan Books, $12.95, PG) ISBN 1-58345-008-4
****
Natchez is a throwback to the historical romances of the 1980s and earlier. Spoiled southern beauty Rebecca Bennett boards a steamboat with her father, Henry Bennett. They are on their way to Natchez, where Henry is planning to purchase a cotton farm from one Oliver Sebastian. As the boat pulls away from the dock in New Orleans, Rebecca notices a handsome man running to catch it, without success. He climbs aboard after being rowed out to the middle of the river, and as Rebecca gets a good look at him, she is smitten. The man turns out to be none other than Oliver Sebastian.

Oliver is equally dazzled by Rebecca. He saves her from a lecherous passenger, and when the boat hits a snag and begins to sink, he saves her life and that of her father. Oliver is taken ill with a fever and Rebecca attempts to warm him with her own body heat. He awakens to find her in his bed and temptation overcomes them both. When Henry Bennett is discovered murdered, with his gold missing, Rebecca is left penniless and accepts Oliver's offer of hospitality at his farm, confessing her love for him. She's in for a shock. Oliver is already married.

Not only married, but he professes to love his wife deeply and plans to take her back to England to regain her health. His desire for Rebecca is still burning, though. When Charlotte, the wife, discovers the truth, Rebecca leaves and heads for Natchez-Under-the-Hill, where she can find the only shipboard acquaintance who might help her, Mary Frazier. Mary, or "Red," is a saloonkeeper. Rebecca steps into this world of gamblers, drinkers, and whores, where she will meet a man who captures her body if not her heart and shows her the tricks of the cardsharp trade. But will she ever know love again?

Because the book is so short (176 pages), the characters aren't explored in depth, but the author compensates for this by keeping the story fast-paced. Rebecca's journey from spoiled, self-absorbed child to a more mature woman, one who has had life knock her around a bit, was intriguing. The secondary character of Red, the saloonkeeper, added a nice dimension to the plot, and Jim, the gambler who loses his heart to Rebecca, is more sympathetic than might be expected.

Oliver suffers the most from the compressed format. Since he's offstage for two-thirds of the book, and his initial actions of romancing Rebecca and then professing to love his wife mark him as more or less a cad, there's not enough opportunity for his character to be truly redeemed. His reappearance was a case of "too little, too late" for this reader. I still thought he was pretty much a cad even at the end.

. Domhan Books may well find a readership for books like Natchez. It's not the current style of romance, but it's enjoyable on its own merits. Readers who like the old-style historicals will likely be captivated by this book.

--Cathy Sova


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