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Silver Hearts by Jackie Manning
(Harl. Historical #454, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29054-3
***
Silver Hearts is an amiable tale of love in the Old West. It's a pleasant romance, but the characters feel a bit too familiar and predictable. This story would be better if it included an honest-to-goodness conflict.

Noelle Bellencourt travels West to find her only living relative an uncle she's never met. From her uncle's letters and her father's stories about his brother, Noelle is sure her uncle is very wealthy and will be pleased to welcome her into his home.

However before Noelle can reach her uncle's hometown of Crooked Creek, her trail guide has a heart attack and Noelle must depend on the kindness of a stranger, Luke Savage, to guide her the rest of the way. During the Civil War, Luke was a doctor; his current profession is gambling.

After his brother died on Luke's operating table, Luke turned his back on the medical profession. Now, with his partner, Blackjack, he runs a saloon in Crooked Creek. Luke has just found out that Blackjack has disappeared with 200 dollars that belongs to Luke; Luke means to find Blackjack before he can get away with Luke's money.

At first, Luke and Noelle do not see eye-to-eye on what Noelle must bring with her to Crooked Creek. The Bellencourts were famous magicians and Noelle promised her father that she would deliver the equipment for their famous magic act to her uncle. Finally, Luke agrees to take Noelle and all her baggage to Crooked Creek.

When Noelle and Luke reach Crooked Creek, the sheriff informs Noelle that her uncle is dead and Luke discovers that Noelle's uncle is his late and unlamented partner, Blackjack. Since Noelle is Blackjack's only living relative, she inherits the saloon and Luke finds he has "inherited" a new partner.

The major conflict in Silver Hearts is all in Luke's head; that is, he believes he's not the kind of man Noelle should marry. Both Luke and Noelle are very likeable characters: they are warm and charming. It's difficult to accept Luke's self-assessment that he's no good for Noelle. How can such a good man be bad husband material?

After a while, Luke's refusal to believe he's good enough for Noelle gets tiresome. In addition, the ending is a bit too good to be true, even for a romance. Then again, I can't say I didn't enjoy the ending; after all, the promise of a nice, happy ending is a primary reason why so many of us are romance readers.

--Judith Flavell


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