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Men of Pride County Series:

The Outcast

The Outsider

The Rebel by Rosalyn West
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80301-1
The Rebel is the third installment of Rosalyn West's "Men of Pride County" series. I have not yet read the first two (although they sit on my TBR pile), but after reading West's latest, I shall have to move them up on my reading schedule. West's strength is creating memorable characters, both major and secondary. The people rather than the plot carry this book.

Noble Banning is a major in the Confederate cavalry. As the story opens, he and his men are waiting to ambush a supply train. Suddenly, shots ring out; it's an ambush. Someone had betrayed the plans. Three months later, Noble is in the Union prisoner camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. Conditions are dreadful and several of Noble's men have died of disease and exposure.

Thus, when Colonel Crowley, the man who had commanded the Union forces in the ambush, offers Noble and his men release from prison camp if they will agree to go west and fight the Apaches, the major agrees. Anything is better than the slow death in prison, even putting on the blue uniform of the U.S. Army.

Col. Crowley's daughter, Juliet, is appalled that her father is trusting his life and command to these released rebels. Herself a seasoned campaigner, she knows the danger of the Indian wars in New Mexico. And she doesn't trust smooth southerners like Major Banning. But the colonel is most impressed by the abilities of Banning and his men and he needs them in his new command.

Sparks fly between Noble and Juliet almost from the start. Noble has never met a woman like Juliet, one so capable, so intelligent, so strong-minded. She is certainly not the kind of woman he planned to marry; he intended to find someone who would be an asset when he returns to begin his legal practice in Kentucky. A tart-tongued, managing Yankee is not what he had in mind.

For her part, Juliet distrusts Noble, both because of his rebel sympathies and because of his engaging, flirtatious ways. She has little experience with gallantry and can only conclude that Noble is not sincere. And she fears that Noble's interest in her has a self-serving motive. The ex-confederate clearly wants to discover which of his men betrayed him, and Colonel Crowley is the only one who knows. Thus, Juliet wonders if Noble is trying to use her to find out who the traitor was.

West sets her romance against the backdrop of the Apache wars. She draws a telling picture of the hardships of army life on the southwestern frontier and the dangers of Indian fighting. She also describes the tensions between the southerners and the northerners, as the two groups have to live together and fight a common enemy. That someone is attacking the colonel adds to the tension and suspense.

Characterization is West's strong point. Noble is a man who is wrestling with the decisions he has to make. Has he done the right thing in bringing his men west? Has he betrayed the cause he fought for? What should he do about his attraction to Juliet? Should he continue to pursue the traitor even though it threatens his relationship with the colonel's daughter?

Juliet is a strong and attractive heroine. She is confused by her feelings for a man she started out not trusting and still wonders about. But she is also willing to take the initiative in exploring these new and strong feelings that draw her to Noble. And she is brave and resourceful when danger appears. All in all, an exceptional heroine.

If I were allowed, my four heart rating for The Rebel might well bear an asterisk. I didn't think the plot was as strong as the characters and I did find some historical inaccuracies that I wouldn't have expected. And I must admit that my evaluation may be influenced by the fact that I just finished Anderson's emotionally intense western romance, Cherish. The Rebel didn't come near the intensity of that book.

However, I believe that fans of western romance will find The Rebel an entertaining read and will really like Juliet and Noble. I look forward to reading the first two books in "The Men of Pride County" series and will certainly continue reading about these characters. West is painting an interesting portrait of the United States as the Civil War comes to a close with this series and The Rebel is a nice piece in the mosaic of life in these trying times.

--Jean Mason

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