Promise Me by Laura DeVries
(Dell, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-440-22137-4
This book has some problems but is redeemed by a fast-paced, interesting story line and the fine character development of the heroine. In Promise Me, the Civil War has just ended and Miranda Dare is ready to start a new life, a life where she can think and decide for herself what her future will be. Determined not to allow her stepfather to control her future and marry her off to an old lecher, Miranda decides to leave Atlanta. Planning to live in Denver with her uncle, Miranda and her newly freed childhood friend, Cinthy, make their way to Missouri.

Hoping to catch a wagon train out West, they procure tickets for the last stagecoach to Fort Leavenworth. Their plans are almost cut short by Captain Clayton Sloane, who doesn't want any passengers on the stagecoach. Clay thinks Miranda will cause trouble because she reminds him of his former fiancée, a spoiled Southern belle who betrayed his love. More important, Clay believes the stage, which will be carrying the army's payroll, is going to be attacked by Bushwhackers. Clay 's instincts are quickly proven correct.

The stagecoach is attacked and Miranda saves Clay's life, only to steal his entire life's savings. After the thieves stole all her money, Miranda felt she had no choice but to take the small pouch of gold she found in Clay's shirt pocket while she was tending to him. Without any money Miranda and Cinthy wouldn't have a next meal, much less a chance to get to Denver. Also, Miranda did not believe the money belonged to Clay personally. She thought the money belonged to the army and she felt the army owed her for all that it had taken from her, and from her family, during the war.

Miranda arrives in Fort Leavenworth as Clay's prisoner. She hopes to convince the Fort's commanding officer, Frank Bonner, that she's not a thief . . . merely a desperate woman trying to make her way in what has become a very difficult world. But General Bonner has his own agenda, his daughter has just died and he needs to get his three grandchildren back to their father in Denver. He offers Miranda the choice of being a prisoner or helping Clay escort his grandchildren to Colorado.

Although spoiled Southern belles have never been my favorite heroines, I liked Miranda. It was a bit of a stretch to believe that she thought the small pouch of gold in Clay's shirt could belong to anyone but Clay; still, I could easily understand her desperation at the thought of being penniless. And I admired her willingness to do whatever it took in order to ensure a decent life for herself and her friend, Cinthy. Then again, compared to Cinthy, Miranda's life has been a piece of cake. In many ways Cinthy was a more sympathetic heroine than Miranda and I would have enjoyed seeing more of her in the story line.

I also think Promise Me would have been greatly improved with some decent editing. The book I read was not an advanced copy, and there were some obvious errors. For example, Bushwhackers is misspelled in one chapter, but spelled correctly in another. Also, there was a sentence I kept rereading until I finally realized that it wasn't a sentence and made absolutely no sense. These errors could-and should-easily have been corrected by someone proofreading the material before it was sent to print.

Despite the mistakes, there is a lot about Promise Me that is enjoyable. For instance, I liked the interaction between the children and Miranda. Miranda welcomes these motherless children with open arms, but they do not return the favor. So she learns to deal with the youngsters as individuals, responding to each child's needs as the occasion warrants. I particularly liked the way the author handled the relationship between Miranda and the eldest daughter, who develops a crush on Clay; it's quite realistic.

Although I thought Clay was a bit of a pain – that is, a little too unforgiving of someone who did, after all, save his life – I can't deny that there are definitely sparks between Clay and Miranda. Also, the journey to Denver is exciting; I never lost interest in the story line. The hardships of the track to Denver bring out the best in Miranda, she grows as a person and becomes a heroine worth rooting for.

--Judith Flavell

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