Blackhawk's Sweet Revenge
by Barbara McCauley
(Sil. Desire #1230, $3.75, R) ISBN 0-373-76230-5
****
Looking for a fast, sexy read with a bad-boy-gone-good hero? Look no further. Blackhawk's Sweet Revenge has it in spades. This one's good enough to read twice.

Lucas Blackhawk, half-Indian outcast, left Wolf River as a young man, bitter over the death of his father at the hands of the town's most influential citizen, Mason Hadley. Someday, Lucas vowed, he'd return to Wolf River and ruin the man. The time has come.

Lucas, now a business tycoon with several financial ventures under his control, arrives at the Hadley ranch and pleasantly informs Mason that he has 48 hours to pay up all his loans or else get the hell off the property. Yes, he can certainly do this, Lucas explains. The loans now belong to him, and he's calling them in. Charges of fraud may follow. Included in the ranch are a rundown cottage and five acres that were left to Julianna Hadley, Mason's daughter, but that she's been unable to wrest from her father's hands.

Julianna goes to Lucas's hotel to plead for this small inheritance, the only thing left of her loving mother. Lucas sees a perfect way to cap his revenge. He'll give Julianna the property, he says, on one condition. She has to marry him.

This isn't quite as coldly calculating as it might seem. Lucas has admired Julianna for years, in the physical sense anyway, and Julianna has been more or less in love with Lucas since she was a young teenager. Julianna was a little girl when Lucas's father was killed, and she witnessed the events of that night. Out of a combination of guilt, desperation, and curiosity, Julianna accepts the proposal. But will Lucas ever love her in return?

None of the plot elements in this book are unusual; longtime readers will recognize the story from past incarnations. But here it was told with a layer of sensuality that nicely obliterated any feelings of "same old, same old." Julianna is a virgin but can't manage to tell Lucas at the right moment. Lucas falls like a rock for the real Julianna but refuses to admit it at first. When they do finally mesh, sparks really fly.

I'm not a big fan of the current fad of virgin brides. Here Julianna's reasons made perfect sense. I'll be interested in seeing if the secret baby plot in the next installment of this trilogy can be handled so it also seems somewhat logical.

(Don't you just wonder what editors say when they accept these proposals? I imagine it goes like this: "Okay, we'll buy the trilogy thing, but the first book has to have a virgin bride, the second book has to have a secret baby, and we don't care what the third one is. Maybe a treasure hunt.")

Lucas and Julianna aren't perfect, either. In fact, Lucas makes a few monumental screwups when dealing with Julianna, who refuses to be cowed. I liked that. The father is basically your casting-call villain, no big surprises there. And the next hero, Nick Santos, makes a strong appearance here. He's a motorcycle racer who's given up the track to open a bike restoration shop in Wolf River. I'll be watching for his story.

All in all, Blackhawk's Sweet Revenge is an excellent choice for a category read, and I give it a fat thumbs-up.

--Cathy Sova


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