Murphy's Child

 
The Renegade and the Heiress
by Judith Duncan
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1114, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27184-0
*****
Wow. Donít let the lackluster title fool you. The Renegade and the Heiress is outstanding story with a sizzling romance and a sharp thread of suspense on which to build it. This is one of the best Iíve read in months.

Finn Donovan is a bit of an enigma in Bolton, Alberta. As the reader finds out in a clever backstory segment, Finn spent eight years in prison for manslaughter after killing a local lowlife who raped Finnís wife. Finnís wife subsequently died in a car wreck while Finn was imprisoned. Finn has been out for seven years, and in that time, has built a thriving business as a backcountry guide. But heís a loner, and at 42, has little hope of changing his solitary life.

While on a pack trip into the mountains to close up his line shacks for the winter, Finn spies a figure stumbling along a mountain stream. He rescues a young woman who is bound at the wrists with duct tape and in the early stages of hypothermia. Finn takes her back to a line shack to warm up, and finds out sheís Mallory OíBrien, daughter of a wealthy American industrialist. Mallory has quite a story to tell. She was kidnapped, drugged, and was on her way to who-knows-where when the small plane in which she was being transported crashed. Mallory managed to escape, and thatís when Finn found her.

Finn takes Mallory to his home, not knowing quite what to do with her yet. As Mallory warms up to Finn, she expands on the story. The plane in which she was riding was an OíBrien industries plane, which means that someone high up in the company is behind the kidnapping. Also, before passing out, she overheard her kidnappers talking about murdering her father, but needing to keep her alive until then. If they believe sheís dead, will it help safeguard her fatherís life?

A search and rescue team is pulled together to look for the downed plane, and Finn, as the areaís best tracker, is asked to head up the team. The RCMP are told that Mallory OíBrien was on board, on her way to her fatherís hunting lodge in Alaska. Ed Jackson, head of security for OíBrien Industries, is on the scene, and Finnís suspicions are on high alert. No doubt Jackson is involved, but how? Leaving Mallory at his house with strict warnings to stay put and out of sight, Finn discovers that Malloryís fears were on target. Claiming that nobody could have survived after leaving the plane, Finn leads everyone to believe that Mallory is dead and returns to his house. Now they have to find a way to get to Chicago, warn her father, and expose Jacksonís duplicity.

And among all this subterfuge, Mallory and Finn are drawn to each other in a lovely, natural, and very sensual way. He admits his background, sure it will drive her away, and is astounded when she offers him comfort and understanding. Mallory, smart-mouthed but also smart, wonít let Finn feel heís anything but a wonderful man. But sheís an heiress, and heís at home on the mountains of Canada. So they deny their physical longings, until one night in a hotel room on the run to ChicagoÖ

Well, I wonít spoil it for readers, but youíre in for a real treat.

Too often in romantic suspense, the suspense feels like itís thrown in as a plot requirement, rather than being used as a plot foundation. Here the suspense element is done to perfection. Itís what draws Finn and Mallory together in the first place, and it drives their actions throughout the story. The romance is wrapped inside of it, and because the author builds the relationship slowly, it feels absolutely authentic. Proof positive to this reader is the fourteen-year age gap between Mallory and Finn; at the outset, it felt too big, but at the end, it wasnít even a concern anymore. These two were simply right for each other. And the ending scene is a hoot.

Readers, donít miss The Renegade and the Heiress. Judith Duncan gives us a sensual, romantic, thoroughly engrossing story that you wonít be able to put down. This is top-notch romantic suspense, and Iím going right out and look for the rest of the books in her Wide Open Spaces series.

--Cathy Sova


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