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The Rebel's Return by Gina Wilkins
(Harl. Tempt. #710, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-25810-0
****
The Rebel's Return, Lucas McBride's story, is the fourth and final book of the Southern Scandals series. The first three books were Seducing Savannah HT 668, Tempting Tara HT 676 and Enticing Emily HT 684. Gina Wilkins tells us that "the McBride family simply wasn't complete without him [Lucas]. And what better time than Christmas for reunions and redemption?"

Lucas McBride is returning to his hometown of Honoria, Georgia, after a fourteen-year absence. He hates Honoria and no wonder. When he left years before, half the town speculated he'd committed a murder, and the other half had already convicted him. Lucas wouldn't be back now if he hadn't seen a news article in the local paper. Reading that his sister, who he hasn't seen since he left, has been a victim of a burglary has left Lucas feeling strangely unsettled. He's returned to find out if she's all right. Meeting her fiancÚ, the cop, reassures him somewhat. The meeting also produces some comical moments as Lucas curses his bad luck with the local police.

Rachel Jennings has returned for a brief visit to Honoria to help her grandmother. The last person she expects to run into is her old love, Lucas. Lucas had left town shortly after Rachel's brother was found dead. Although Rachel never doubted Lucas' innocence, his alibi broke her young heart. When a local woman claimed that Lucas was with her for the night in question, it cleared Lucas of murder charges, but it lost him Rachel's love and respect. It's hard to decide who's more surprised when they meet unexpectedly at their favorite spot.

Rachel and Lucas are suffering from misconceptions about the other that they have held for fourteen years. Rachel was certain that Lucas had not meant his marriage proposal and had just been dallying with her. His sudden departure cemented this feeling. Lucas feels that Rachel doubted his innocence. After all, hadn't she hung up on him when he called . . . once . . . to talk to her after her brother's death.

The Rebel's Return offers a satisfying closure on the mysteries present in the other books. Burglaries, murders and family tragedies are neatly answered. Sometimes the short length of categories works against itself when a mystery is afoot. When only one character stands out as heinous and suspicious, it's no surprise to discover that he's the bad guy. I'm pleased that the relationship was more captivating than the mystery, but mystery buffs may find the resolution too simplistic, too pat.

This last installment also offers brief glimpses of Savannah, Tara and Emily. There are details in the front on how to order their stories. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure that I could recommend The Rebel's Return if I hadn't read the first three books. Yes, it stands alone, but it's sort of wobbly without that prior knowledge of whom and what. People, places and past events made more sense and completed the story.

If you enjoy reading family stories, Southern Scandals would be a good series to read. Gina Wilkins consistently delivers a well-plotted story with appealing characters. She's done it again, with a Christmas setting nicely ending the series.

--Linda Mowery


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