Great Caesarís Ghost
by Cynthia Sterling
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12730-2
***
Itís 1893 and circumstances have thrown Jed Hawkins and Nixie Dengler together. Due to Jedís fatherís trickery, Nixie is forced to help Jed with his traveling medicine show selling Great Caesarís Celebrated Curative. And afterwards, Jed finds himself going to Welcome Springs, Texas, to find Nixie and retrieve the secret ingredient she mistakenly took with her. He has to admit that Miss Dengler is the prettiest woman heís seen, but heís annoyed by his fatherís actions. Why couldnít Caesar Hawkins admit he is a ghost and travel to the other side already?

Nixie is not too happy to see Jed, who she believes is just some two bit con man. But her kind-hearted family immediately welcomes him with open arms. Nixieís father is a doctor who has big dreams. The local mineral water could draw hundreds of visitors, if only there was a local inn to house them all. Jed agrees to stay on and finish the doctorís Willkommen Inn.

Nixie is horrified to learn that Jed will be staying on, and even more upset that heís fueling her fatherís dreams. To make matters worse, she finds herself attracted to this man. A man she believes that could never settle down because the traveling life is in his blood.

Caesar Hawkins may be dead, but he isnít blind. He sees the attraction between Jed and Nixie and is determined to help the relationship along. Of course, Jed and Nixie are fighting him every step of the way, but Caesar was never a man to give up. Heís determined to help his son find happiness.

But it isnít easy. Nixie has some past pain that she isnít sharing with anyone, let alone a rambling man like Jed. She is determined to push him away at every turn. Will Jed melt Nixieís icy exterior? Will Nixie forget the past and learn to trust Jed?

Great Caesarís Ghost is a nice story with largely character driven conflict. The main source of conflict is Nixieís past experiences and her inability to get over them. Thereís also the issue of Jedís traveling lifestyle and his dead fatherís ghost floating around and causing trouble.

Nixieís attitude does get tiresome rather quickly. We all know the song and dance: she had some bad experiences with men and therefore all men are scum of the earth and canít be trusted. She spends more time cooing with her pet bird, Sweet William, than she does getting to know Jed. But then why does she have to get to know him? Arenít all traveling men cons out to cheat women out of their skirts and hearts? She doesnít really give Jed a chance to prove himself and show her that her opinions are dead wrong.

What kept me going through this book was Jed Hawkins -- devilishly handsome, charming and totally irresistible. I also found myself feeling sorry for him. Heís a great guy, but heís hopelessly chasing after a woman who keeps pushing him away and dealing with his fatherís ghost that keeps treating him like a child.

Caesarís misguided antics designed to bring Nixie and Jed together add some light humor to the story, especially since his actions tend to affect the secondary characters. There are quite a few of them, mostly vacationers benefiting from the local mineral water.

I did enjoy Great Caesarís Ghost on several levels, and Sterling does a nice job of mixing the elements of historical and ghost romance to strike a good balance. But Nixieís attitude that all men are the spawn of the devil dampened my enjoyment.

--Wendy Crutcher


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