The Merry Widows:

Once a Hero by Theresa Michaels
(Harl. Hist. #505, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29105-1
Kee Kincaid just can’t say no to a damsel in distress, and because of this he endangers his own life countless times during the course of Michaels’ latest entry in her Kincaid series. Is he stubborn, enraptured or just plain stupid? You be the judge.

Kee is leading his horses across Arizona when he spies two men chasing a frantic woman. He saves Isabel del Cuervo and is determined to take her to safety. That wouldn’t be too difficult, except Isabel’s pursuers hate to lose and immediately set out to recapture their prey.

Isabel is on the hunt for a lost and legendary gold mine that her grandfather once saw with his own eyes. He made a map, and Isabel has returned to Arizona with the map in hand to claim the riches. Of course, so are the bad guys and hence the constant pursuit of Isabel. Since Kee keeps popping up to rescue her, he soon becomes a nuisance, and the bad guys are gunning for him as well.

Kee gets my “Dumbest Man Alive” award for pure stubbornness. He immediately knows that Isabel isn’t telling him the whole story, but instead of dragging the truth out of her, he makes out with her. He risks his own neck so many times to save a woman he knows isn’t being honest with him, that he didn’t ring true to me.

Isabel is so completely inept, I was wishing the bad guys would just tie her up in a cave somewhere and leave her. She gets caught so often it boggles the mind. Then there’s the issue of her lying to Kee. He goes above and beyond the call of duty, constantly rescuing her. Don’t you think she’d have gotten the idea that she could trust him after all of this? And even though she tells him she does, she still doesn’t give him the whole truth.

The villains in the story have to be the most ubiquitous bad guys to ever grace a romance novel. On several occasions Kee does some or all of the following: he ties them, takes their boots and guns, and lets their horses loose. And throughout these little set-backs they still manage to find the couple and capture Isabel, therefore causing Kee to once again set out to rescue her.

The attraction between Kee and Isabel is also forced. They are constantly running from the bad guys, yet they have time to grope each other. After Isabel is rescued for the fourth time, instead of collecting the horses and riding off into the sunset, they begin kissing passionately. Hmmm, sharing some heavy breathing, or high-tailing it out of there before the bad guys return?

Kee also suffers from an affliction I like to call “Hot-Cold Syndrome.” Anyone who reads romance is aware of this disease: Hero makes out with heroine and then gets mad at her for “tempting” him. Kee’s case is quite severe. He treats Isabel with contempt when she shares that she’s saving herself for marriage and he makes several snide remarks about her “guarding her virtue.” Wow, with an attitude like that who wouldn’t want to immediately jump into bed with him?

Do Kee and Isabel ever find the lost gold mine? Do they succumb to their growing passions? Do the bad guys get what’s coming to them? By the end of the story, I just didn’t care. I had no vested interest in Kee or Isabel and therefore didn’t care what happened to them. Would I feel differently if I had read the whole Kincaid series? Perhaps, but the fact is I didn’t like them, and rooting for the bad guys is not what romance is about.

--Wendy Crutcher

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