Beyond Betrayal
by Christine Michels
(LoveSpell, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-505-52264-0
Beyond Betrayal is the story of a woman making her way in life as a gambler in the Old West. Delilah Sterne is a widow, alone in the world except for a younger sister whom she hasn't seen in several years. Lacking any saleable skills other than the obvious, Delilah has turned her natural ability as a cardsharp to good use. When word comes that her younger sister, Eve, is on the verge of losing her ranch and needs money, Delilah heads to the rescue. She'll earn the money she needs as a card dealer and gambler in the Lucky Strike Saloon.

Standing in the way is Sheriff Matt Chambers, a.k.a. Samson Towers (Delilah and Samson, get it?) a wanted man. Matt/Samson has eluded the law for over two years. As sheriff, he's built a clean reputation, and his suspicions are immediately aroused when Delilah hits town. He believes she must be a cheat. Delilah and Matt ride out to Eve's ranch together, and a cougar attacks Matt. Delilah stitches him up. He finds himself attracted to her. She is afraid to trust him.

Eve's husband is dying of gangrene from an infected leg wound. And this makes Delilah doubly determined to rescue Eve and come up with the mortgage money. Opportunity knocks when she finds out that Matt/Samson is a wanted man with a fat reward on his head. She needs the money, and besides, he makes her tingly in places she shouldn't, so what the heck. Turning him in means she gets a nice reward and he's out of her hair.

I liked the character of Matt. He was a straightforward guy, interested in the pretty widow who's more than what she seems but unsure of how to go about winning her. The author kept changing his name, which was a bit confusing - he would be Matt and Samson on the same page. Another well-written character was the younger sister, Eve, who knows her husband is dying and finds strength in running the ranch they'd dreamed of owning together.

But lordy, lordy, how I hated Delilah. To call her cowardly and emotionally dishonest would be kind. By page 200, I loathed her so much that I had to force, absolutely force, myself to finish this book. Having betrayed the man she belatedly realizes she cares about, she's too spineless to try and right the wrong. Instead, she decides to sleep with him, instead, and then run away. And run away again. And again. By this time I no longer wanted the hero to get the heroine, which left me with a completely empty feeling when I finally finished the story.

Couple this with the secondary character of an "amusing" little dog named, of all things, Poopsy (a joke which was a one-liner at best) and what I had was an irritating reading experience. Even the likable hero couldn't save it. Beyond Betrayal was pretty much beyond redemption, at least for me. Western historical lovers, judge for yourself.

--Cathy Sova

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