Caineís Reckoning
by Sarah McCarty
(Spice, $13.95, NC-17) ISBN 0-373-60518-8
****
Caineís Reckoning has at its heart a very good romance, giving a solid foundation to this erotic western historical tale. Sarah McCarty begins her ďHellís EightĒ series with the story of an amiable Texas Ranger and an abused woman who cannot trust. The loner is a stock character in Westerns, even romances, but Caine Allen is an interesting character with a bit more depth to him than one might expect.

Caine is a member of a band of eight Rangers known as Hellís Eight. The live on a ranch that is not so much a commune as a stopping-off point for the men as they carry out their various assignments. Caine spends a bit more time there than some of the other men, and heís an expert at working horses. He has no intention of marrying and isnít looking for a wife.

Then Caine and two of his partners are sent on a mission to find and recover four women who have been kidnapped by outlaws from a nearby town. The men locate the victims, but three of the women will have nothing to do with the fourth, and the fourth one, a young blonde woman named Desi, seems determined to escape rather than be taken back to town. Caine thwarts her plans, not understanding why.

He soon finds out. Desi is the ward of a man who has abused her in every possible way, destroying her reputation amongst the townsfolks in the process. She is now branded as a common whore. The town priest, the only person willing to speak up for her, calls in a favor owed to him by Caine and asks Caine to marry her. To his surprise, Caine agrees.

Caine takes Desi back to the Hells Eight ranch, where he learns her sad history. Originally from a wealthy Eastern family, Desi and her twin sister were kidnapped by Comanches a year earlier. Desi has no idea if her sister is still alive or not, but sheís well aware of the brutality both of them suffered before Desi managed to escape. In addition, it seems that someone is out to kill her, perhaps someone from her family background. Caine vows to protect this courageous and fascinating woman, though he canít claim to love her. He makes it his mission to show Desi that not all men are bent on brutalizing women, and a great deal of pleasure can be found between a man and his wife.

Desi, for her part, finds it impossible to relax in a manís presence. She is drawn to Caine, as he is to her, but she fears their physical relationship. Caine gives her time to get used to the idea, and gradually, they begin to build an understanding that may lead to a deep love.

The sex is, as expected, hot enough to scorch, though thereís nothing kinky here. Desi and Caineís relationship only involves the two of them, and the author wisely keeps the focus there, rather than bringing in outside sexual elements. Thatís not to say that Caine isnít plenty inventive as he teaches Desi to relax and enjoy herself. But even better than the erotic side of the tale is their developing love story. This book, sans the erotic element, would have made a fine mainstream historical romance. Desiís pain is nearly palpable (though the author spares the reader the graphic details of her sexual abuse) and her guarded demeanor is exactly what one might expect of a woman who has been so brutalized. Caine is more laid-back; he certainly didnít intend to end up with a wife, but now that heís got one anyway, heíll make the best of it. Caineís amazement as he finds himself falling for Jessie is almost comical in places and adds a bit of light relief to Desiís angst.

The secondary characters are placed in the story to serve a purpose. Most of the other Hellís Eight men are offstage for the book, only making very brief appearances, but two of them figure prominently, and one will be the focus of the next book, Samís Creed. The storyline of Desiís missing sister will be developed in the next volume, it seems.

Caineís Reckoning is an excellent choice for historical romance readers who enjoy their stories on the hot side. Sarah McCarty manages to blend a quality romance with just the right erotic elements. This promises to be an imaginative and entertaining series.

--Cathy Sova


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