The Wedding Ransom by Geralyn Dawson
(Pocket Books, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-00127-2
Ex-lawyer, ex-thief, current horse-farmer Rafe Malone is peacefully napping under a tree when he is kidnapped by a quartet of pirates determined to get the very best to recover the fortune they hid on the Yucután Peninsula. The pirates need the fortune to buy back their land around Lake Bliss, Republic of Texas, from a no-good son of a clam. The steaming water and warm mud of the lake ease their granddaughter Maggie's rheumatism; without it, she is bedridden with pain.

Rafe goes more willingly than not; he doesn't regret his promise to quit thieving, but sometimes he has an itch for adventure. When he arrives at the closed up hotel at Lake Bliss and meets Mary Margaret St. John, the apple of the pirates' eyes, he is even more willing to help the old seadogs out. Not that he can get near her. One clause of the deal with the pirates is "hands off Maggie," and the pirates have the cutlasses to enforce it.

But can the pirates stop Maggie if she doesn't want to keep "hands off Rafe?" And how will Rafe keep her at arm's length when she's the strongest, most adventurous woman he's ever met?

Rafe is a solid hero – scarred by the mistakes in his past, but determined to live a good and honorable life. He likes women; he even likes being in love, a refreshing change from heroes who distrust women (often for little reason) and want nothing to do with the fizz of being in love. Maggie is a fine heroine in that her grit, spunk and adventurousness are all real. No self-pity for this girl. Just a determination to make the best of her situation and take care of the "papas" who raised her.

Yet Rafe and Maggie don't truly earn this book its four hearts. I liked all the characters, but none of them leaped off the page, shimmering with vividness. What makes this book a recommended read is the reality of the romance. Not only did I understand the attraction between Maggie and Rafe, I could see attraction slipping into friendship and then emotional intimacy. And by the end of the story, I could almost put my hand on the page and feel the love that bound Maggie and Rafe together. I believed their happy ending was truly a happy beginning.

The Wedding Ransom is a follow-up book to last year's The Wedding Raffle and while characters from the first book make appearances in this book, the appearance is always necessary and well-explained. You don't have to read the first book to understand the second.

If you are looking for a story that has pirates, stolen treasure, Texas Rangers, sea-creature curses, a strong, smart hero and heroine and a romance you can feel, you'll find a winner in The Wedding Ransom.

--Katy Cooper

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