Moon Hunter by Deanna Mascle
(Zebra, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-176619-8
Silas “Mack” McGee is traveling in the Kentucky wilderness warning settlers in remote areas of the very real threat of Indian and British attacks. Traveling under the cover of darkness, he hears a baby’s cry. Knowing it could possibly be a screech owl, he investigates further and comes across Rebecca “Becca” Wallace and her three-month-old daughter, Caroline, hiding in the woods.

Becca took her child into the night to escape the impending wrath of her abusive and drunken husband. Once Mack discovers them, instead of pushing on towards her cabin, he camps near her for the night, making sure she remains safe. While he’s looking out for her and the baby, Becca’s husband is killed and their cabin burned to the ground.

Determined to protect the defenseless woman and baby, he leads them through the wilderness and toward a nearby fort that promises safety. Traveling with a woman is enough to set Mack’s teeth on edge, but having a helpless child along further complicates their escape. To make matters worse, Mack and Becca soon find themselves not only dependent on each other for survival, but drawn to each other romantically.

The first half of Moon Hunter is so fast paced, exciting and well written that I barely managed to come up for air while reading. Mack and Becca face seemingly insurmountable odds, not just from the enemy, but also from their own emotional pain.

Becca grew up in an abusive home, watching her mother take repeated beatings from her stepfather. She was then married off to a man who treated her in the same despicable manner. But she’s a strong woman, her spirit unbroken, and determined to protect her daughter at all costs. It is this determination and spirit that immediately won me over.

All of this led to an initially exciting read, but there are several problems with the story. The first problem concerned the time period. For a long time, I didn’t know when the story was taking place. I had narrowed it down to between 1760 to 1792, until the climatic finish. After a little investigating via the Internet, I discovered that the story took place in 1782. Admittedly, I’m not terribly knowledgeable about colonial history, but all this work seems kind of pointless when the author could have just come out and said what year it was.

Also troublesome is a common problem that plagues quite a few romances -- a problem I like to call “consummation-interruptus.” Whenever Becca and Mack start to make love, they are almost immediately interrupted. This was very frustrating, since the sexual tension between Mack and Becca is so intense. To have their consummation interrupted (more than once) was a major letdown.

As I’ve already pointed out, I really liked Becca. She was strong and feisty, but deeply wounded. She’s more than a little gun shy around men, which is understandable given her history with them. But once she decides she has feelings for Mack, her personality shifts and she’s needy and dependent on him. Her transformation was too abrupt and while she struggled with her feelings, she was looking constantly towards Mack for reassurance.

Mack doesn’t help matters either by repeatedly pushing her away, and he’s downright nasty about it. He’s the classic tortured romance hero running away from painful memories. Mascle drops hints throughout the story about this tragic event, but when Mack finally shares his story with Becca it’s unsatisfying. Mack relates his harrowing tale in one paragraph. Just the one, and there are no nitty-gritty details.

Moon Hunter is the sequel to an earlier release Kentucky Kisses. The couple from that story plays a prominent role in this one, but readers unfamiliar with the first book will not be lost. Despite the problems, the sexual tension and excitement of the first half made Moon Hunter a memorable read. It was also refreshing to read a story set in the colonial era with a western atmosphere, yet east of the Mississippi. I just wish that the second half of the tale had kept up with the promising first.

--Wendy Crutcher

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