Captured Hearts by Mary Jo Putney, Joan Wolf, Edith Layton,
Patricia Rice & Mary Balogh
(Topaz, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-40883-7
****
First a word of warning. If you have been an avid reader of the many anthologies put out by Signet over the past ten years or so, you might want to check your shelves. All of these stories have appeared in earlier anthologies. Having issued that caveat, I must admit that I enjoyed revisiting these five stories by some of my favorite authors. Yes, I had read them all before. But any anthology that contains Joan Wolf's only short story (perhaps her first excursion into the first person?) and Mary Jo Putney's only western romance is bound to be entertaining.

"Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know" is Putney's contribution. Andrew Kane is being escorted to Prairie City, Texas, where he is going to be hanged for the murder of the son of the town's leading citizen. It had been a clear case of self-defense, but he had been convicted by a kangaroo court presided over by the dead man's uncle. The deputies are not being gentle with their prisoner. Their brutal treatment raises the ire of one spectator, Elizabeth Holden, who insists on doctoring Drew's wounds.

Elizabeth has recently lost both husband and father and is returning, unhappily, to her in-laws' home in Prairie City. She and Drew find a brief moment of happiness. Such is Putney's talent that, even knowing that the requisite HEA will follow, the reader shares the anguish of two people who believe that true love has come too late.

Joan Wolf's "The Antagonists" is a light and delightful tale, told from the heroine's point of view. Dinah first meets her distant cousin the Earl of Thornton when she is eleven and he is sixteen. She and her widowed mother have come to live with the young earl's sister after her father's death. Dinah believes it is her duty in life to depress the pretensions of the too-handsome, too-admired, too-perfect Thorn, and spends the next seven years or so assiduously getting his goat. For his part, Thorn teases "Red" unmercifully. Then, Dinah and her cousin Caroline come to London for their come-outs. Dinah knows that it is her duty to find a husband; after all, Thorn is so anxious to get her off his hands that he even provides a dowry!

This is a delightful tale which had me chuckling more than once. Dinah is a marvelous heroine and her antagonistic relationship with Thorn is cleverly portrayed. While no one is surprised by the denouement (except Dinah and Thorn), it is eminently satisfying.

Do you like pirates? If so, you'll love the hero of Edith Layton's "Buried Treasure." On an expedition to bury some of Captain Kidd's treasure, Dancer falls afoul of one of his mates and is stabbed in the chest. The pirates bury him with the loot, but they didn't stop to make sure he is dead. Turns out he is able to get out of his premature grave and is found and cared for by a family who have a lovely daughter.

Hannah Jenkins nurses the wounded man and captures his fancy. Will he be able to love her and leave her as he has every other woman in his life? What do you think? Watch for the neat twist at the end.

"Fathers and Daughters" by Patricia Rice is a second chance at love tale. Lord Jack Chatham fell in love with the lovely and wealthy Carolyn Thorogood. But Carolyn's father refused to give her to a man whose reputation was that of a wastrel. Jack is threatened with debtors' prison if he doesn't withdraw his suit and Carolyn is left believing that her father bought him off.

Five years later, Jack returns from India a wealthy man. But Carolyn, still unwed, refuses to have anything to do with him. It takes another father-daughter relationship to bring the lovers together.

Last, but never least in my book, is Mary Balogh's "Precious Rogue." Mr. Bancroft is a rake and a rogue. He has been invited to the Peabody's houseparty in the expectation that he will offer for their daughter Nancy. Bancroft is in fact playing a game with the Peabodys. While he is seemingly courting Miss Peabody, he is busy seducing the other ladies of the party. Then, by chance he meets Patricia Mangran, niece and unpaid companion.

The penniless daughter of a country parson, Patricia is not at all the kind of woman Bancroft finds attractive. And yet he is intrigued by her wit and moved by her bravery. As usual, Balogh knows how to wring every bit of emotion out of her well-drawn characters.

Topaz has shown astute marketing judgment in packaging stories by these five authors in this anthology. All are very popular with readers and all of these stories are among their best. Rereading them has been for me a most enjoyable experience. Isn't it interesting that none of these authors writes for Topaz/Signet any longer? What does that say about the company's editorial judgment?

--Jean Mason


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