Bounty Hunterís Bride by Carol Finch
(Harl. Hist. #635, $5.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-29235-X
Carol Finch has written a generally entertaining western romance in Bounty Hunterís Bride, with two characters that a reader can get behind and enjoy. There are a few plot ploys that keep it from full recommended status.

Hanna Malloy is an heiress who hates being put on display by her father, resents his lack of affection, and refuses to be a pawn and live the life HE wants her to live. That life includes marrying a man hand-picked by her father to bring about a merger of their shipping lines. Hanna does not love this man and has no interest in living as a society wife in New Orleans in the 1870ís. Hanna wants to find herself, learn her strengths and enjoy some adventure. She is not as selfish as it sounds; she is just a little ahead of her time.

Hanna escapes from her wedding by crawling out the window of the church and getting on a steamer bound for Fort Smith and parts west. She figures she will find a strong man to teach her what she needs to know, protect her while she is learning and marry her so she can avoid her fatherís trap.

She hears about a strong bounty hunter/marshal who will fit the bill. His name is Cale Elliott. He is a half-Cherokee deputy marshal who has spent his life hunting down criminals and bringing them to justice in front of Judge Parker at Fort Smith. He has always lived on the fringes, never really being accepted due to his heritage. He has vowed revenge against a man in Texas named Otis Pryor. This man duped his half-brother and his wife, killing them and taking their herd of cattle off their ranch. Cale is determined to bring this man to justice.

His plan is to pose as a law abiding gun store owner in the town and gather the evidence he needs to arrest Pryor. Hannahís proposition to marry for convenience suits his needs fine. What better way to infiltrate the town than with a lovely wife on his arm. Their deal is set. Hanna will accompany Cale to Texas to dupe this man while Cale will teach Hanna what she needs to survive in the West. Once their adventure is over, they will go their separate ways, each with what they wanted out of the agreement.

But the best laid plansÖThey fall into lust and eventually into love. Cale grows to care for Hanna and hates the thought of her on her own, but more the thought of he alone without her. Hanna falls for Cale, but is determined not to tie him down. As Hanna learns the lessons Cale imparts, she finds she is an independent woman, but it is okay to depend on a man for some things. Cale learns the softer side of life and finds his peace of mind. Their love story is engaging and heart warming.

Their journey is full of things that made me wince, such things as unrealistic actions and the use of well-worn plot devices. It is this predictability that lessened the pleasure from their story.

Hanna enters the wilderness having been raised in wealth and splendor in New Orleans. Yet she takes to the menial labor of camp life without a whimper. Granted, she has convinced herself she wanted to explore the West, but this just seemed a little too convenient. Hanna also cannot sew, knit, paint or any of the ďskillsĒ one would think a gently bred young woman would know. This just didnít ring true, although it brought some humor and provided some insight into their relationship.

Cale, on the other hand, was a tried and true Western hero, taking on three or more villains at a time and coming away with nary a scratch. This was incongruent with the authorís efforts to show his human side full of emotional vulnerability.

We have some gallant fellow marshals, a domineering and exasperating father, the local good guy who emerges from his fear to help and a truly BAD villain to round out the cast. All are traditional western characters, which add to the tale, but also contribute to its predictable nature.

It is clearly the skill of the author as she developed her characters that kept me engaged. Iíll be looking for some of Carol Finchís previous efforts.

Bounty Hunterís Bride is an entertaining tale if you are in the mood for a traditional romantic western.

--Shirley Lyons

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