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Caden's Vow
by Sarah McCarty
(HQN, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0373-77699-3
**
Caden Miller is a gunslinger who has been part of a crew of men known as Hell's Eight. This is the fifth in a series about these men, who ultimately do the right thing. Caden is a man ready for an adventure and he decides he is going to try to resurrect the silver mine that was abandoned by one of the other men's wives. He is also trying to preserve his sanity and get away from a woman he is attracted to but who doesn't need his attentions.

Maddie O'Hare was rescued from a whorehouse by one of the other men and has been recuperating at the Hells Eight ranch. She loves to bake and bakes to relieve her stress. She was abused as a child and has been raised as a whore even though she didn't want it and hated every minute of it. She is vulnerable, but stronger in spirit than anyone realizes. And she wants Caden, who she feels safe with and who has been attractive to her since she met him.

Caden leaves for his mine, and Maddie follows. She is taken by men from a neighboring ranch and when Caden finally hears of it and tries to rescue her, he is forced into marrying her to get her away. He is amazed at her streak of independence, but also realizes that her view of men and the marriage bed are not too positive. He initially sets out to leave her alone, but finds his attraction too strong. So he sets out to teach her gentleness and shared lovemaking. Yet he is determined to protect her, and when his mine is threatened he sets her up in a small town to keep her safe. She is not too happy about that and the conflict is set.

This story dragged for a good portion of the first 100 pages. Maybe if a reader was more familiar with the series, some of the actions and activities would have made more sense. I felt like I was in catch-up mode for much of the story. The tale picked up when Maddie and Caden were working on their relationship, but it was too little too late for me. Caden was a good guy; his gentleness with Maddie was in direct contrast to his macho mien for much of the story. Maddie had to grow into her skin and once she gained some spunk, she was a decent heroine. But I struggled with the storyline, feeling like I was missing something the whole time. And that something was why a man like Caden could put aside Maddie's past and fall in love with her.

Caden's Vow had some good moments and ended up with a nice bow tie. But the lack of engagement for the first 100 pages doomed the story for me.

--Shirley Lyons


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