Veiled Promises
by Tracy MacNish
(Zebra, $3.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7952-4
****
Veiled Promises by debut author Tracy MacNish should come with a warning label. Certainly the soft pink cover gives no indication that the book’s content would include the most vile, under-handed, vicious, psychotic villain the reader is likely to ever encounter.

Camille Bradburn, the daughter of an English duke, has been surrounded by amazing wealth her entire life. She’s young, intelligent and beautiful and seems to have everything a girl could dream of. Despite appearances, though, Camille’s life is a living hell.

The hero, an Irishman named Patrick Mullen, meets Camille when he visits with Camille’s brother. Patrick is a merchant captain, confident, strong and handsome, and his family has considerable wealth. Patrick’s also charming and mannered, but under normal circumstances he would never have been allowed into the duke’s household. Camille’s brother has a desperate need to sell some property, forcing Camille’s family to receive Patrick, although hosting an Irish commoner rankles.

Patrick and Camille meet in the stables during a short period of freedom for Camille, and they are instantly attracted to one another. They are not allowed to associate openly, so they arrange to meet secretly. Consequently, Camille begins a strange double life, playing the obedient, dutiful daughter and suffering the attentions of her hated betrothed by day, then spending the night in her room with Patrick, whispering secrets and falling ever more deeply in love.

The villain in the story intercedes and the pair is soon separated. Almost everything else I could mention would be a spoiler, so suffice it to say that Patrick and Camille endure extreme adversity attempting to get back together and remain true to one another.

Readers should be advised that this book is intense. One becomes very emotionally involved with the protagonists and the author is gifted with the ability to shock. Danger and violence are bad enough when you can see it coming, especially given how much the reader invests in the characters, but a couple of horrible events are such a surprise you may want to throw the book across the room. Don’t. The author plays tricks, and you have to keep reading to see if the next surprise is going to be a happy one.

Camille is an extremely likable heroine. She’s a soft little young woman, but she has a lot of integrity and a titanium backbone. Other writers might have made her character yielding and spineless due to emotional trauma, but Camille’s inner defiance and independent spirit make her a classic. She’s strong enough to cause serious problems for a practically unstoppable villain, even when the reader thinks she’s finally been defeated.

Veiled Promises has a lot going for it. The writing and dialogue are excellent and the book remains interesting and fast-paced throughout. The absolute best part of the book is the villain. All too often, an author will cop out with a softening at the end, or a death bed confession - not Ms. MacNish. Her villain is unapologetically evil and remains so.

The villain’s actions have a lot to do with this review’s R rating, due to the suspense and violence, with one scene being particularly disturbing. The love scenes are warm and rate a PG-13.

Veiled Promises is an excellent book, but as a debut it is phenomenal. Congratulations, Ms. MacNish.

--Wendy Livingston


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