Hannah's Promise

Jacey's Reckless Heart

Wild Flower by Cheryl Anne Porter
(St. Martinís, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97716-6
Too many romances have featured passive heroines - heroines who spend most of their time sneaking longing glances at the hero and not much else. The heroine in Wild Flower is the antidote to such wimpy heroines. Itís too bad she didnít get a better story and a better hero.

The story opens in 1876 in Oklahoma Territory at the Cherokee Nationís National Penitentiary which holds the most dangerous criminals. A hanging is scheduled for the next day, the execution of twenty-year-old Taylor Christie James, a beautiful half-breed Cherokee who has her fatherís blue eyes.

Taylor is innocent. (Although she has killed three other men - all of whom deserved it - and over the course of the book sheíll plug two more.) Her lover, Monroe Hammer, actually committed the crime; sheís certain that he wonít let her die, that heíll break her out of jail. But when three men come to free her, Hammer is not among them. They are led by her uncle who tells her that Hammer had dumped her for another woman and was going to leave her to her fate so her uncle killed him.

Taylorís mother tells her to go to her father in St. Louis, that there is much she doesnít know about her past. Taylor resents the father who abandoned her when she was a child, but her mother convinces her to go. The authority of the Cherokee Nation does not extend to St. Louis so her death sentence wonít imperil her there.

Greyson Talbott is a guest at a society party at Charles Jamesís house. Grey is the elder son of a prominent family, but since his fatherís death, he has allowed his more responsible younger brother Franklin to handle family business matters. Slightly drunk and bored with the conversation, Grey leaves the party early to find a beautiful half-breed dressed in manís clothing and wearing a gun on her hip seated on a horse outside. She claims to be Charlesís daughter.

He is shocked at her claim, but Grey knows in confidence that Charles had a half-breed daughter who died many years ago. He believes sheís lying as to her identity but convinces Taylor to go home with him while he investigates her claim. Taylor is disinclined to obey the orders of a stranger, but when she meets his butler and recognizes him in a vision as her spirit-guide, she reluctantly agrees to stay at his home until matters can be straightened out.

Taylorís arrival provokes a flurry of mostly negative reaction among Greyís family and friends, but he recognizes Taylorís basic integrity and starts to believe her tale. In practically no time at all their mutual attraction will lead to passion. Together they peel back layers of deception to expose the shocking truth of Taylorís origins, a truth that will threaten their lives.

This synopsis covers only the first few chapters of Wild Flower. This section moves with action and hints of dark mysteries. As soon as Taylor arrives in St. Louis and meets Grey, however, the bookís pace slows to a crawl.

What a shame she wasnít a few minutes sooner, and an immediate confrontation between Taylor and Charles wasnít averted. The moment she meets Grey the rough, tough, knife-toting, gun-packing, two-fisted, get-outa-my-way heroine of the first chapters goes namby-pamby and starts deferring to the indecisive Grey, and the action grinds to a near halt. Molasses in January is a raging torrent compared to the rest of this book. The plot spirals down to a mire of excessive introspection, and the story repeatedly plods over the same ground.

ďTaylor felt as if everything were happening, but nothing was being done. Everything was being said, but nothing was being explained. The answers didnít go with the questions. And the questions were not the correct ones.Ē Thatís a pretty good description of the bulk of this book.

What really bothered me about the story is that several people - among them, Taylorís father and Grey - know that someone wants her dead and know the identity of that person but never tell her. They urge her to get out of town but donít give a reason. Itís hard to understand a father who doesnít place his daughterís safety above other concerns. Itís hard to respect a hero who places a vow of secrecy above the life of the woman he professes to love.

Moreover, Grey needs to grow up and develop some responsibility and maturity. He admits that one of the reasons he is attracted to Taylor is ďI saw in you the possibility to save me from myself.Ē Strong heroines deserve strong heroes.

I could understand why Grey would be attracted to Taylor - sheís got the boldness he lacks - but other than her sensual appreciation for chest hair thatís so rare among the Cherokee, itís hard to figure out what she sees in him.

Frankly, Taylor, you can do better. And readers can do better than Wild Flower.

--Lesley Dunlap

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