Cold Night, Warm Stranger
by Jill Gregory, historical (1999)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-22440-3

I have a good laugh at the title. It is so straightforward and blunt. And it gives me great fun thinking up variations of the theme. Hot Night, Cold Man... Boring Day, Exciting Hero... Soft Night, er, forget it.

Then there's the even more graphic stepback art, as if I haven't received the message already. The heroine's thighs look a bit too big for her dainty frame, but Johnny d'Salvo looks great covered with only this tiny little scrap of cloth (dang, get out of the way, you irritating piece of cloth, you!). Yummy. Now you know why I pick this book up.

The story isn't bad. It's above average, as a matter of fact. It's a fun, fast-paced Western romance with many bullets zinging around in the pages, and it has one of the most memorable heroines around. I think I may look up this author's backlist.

Our heroine Maura Reed is trapped in a Cinderella scenario. Adopted by a family, now the only family she has are her two adopted brothers who make her do all the chores as well as management of the hotel they run. All her dreams center on that day when she will have saved enough money to run somewhere far away from here. Maybe she would open a shop and be a seamstress. Then one night when the entire area is hit by a blizzard, gunslinger Quinn Lassiter, the most feared sharpshooter around, walks in and asks for a room. Lonely and in need of human company, Maura spends some time with this man and ends up in his bed. Guess what happens? A superhero like Quinn is bound to have superhero spermatozoas, so the next thing you know, Maura is horrified to discover that there's a bun in her oven.

Maura, of course, is too smart to hide and whine about her pregnancy. She gathers her money and flees her old life, fully intending to seek out Quinn. Now there's a woman! No simpering milquetoast for you, this Maura. She finds Quinn, who unfortunately doesn't even remember her but insists on marrying her nonetheless.

Quinn doesn't intend to get settled down, and Maura doesn't intend to get him settled. They agree to get her settled down on his ranch, then he would set off to kill more people while she will start her own new life. Things don't work the way they plan, however.

I like Maura, who tries so hard to shed her doormat-sy behavior in light of her new-found freedom. She is aghast at finding herself falling more for Quinn each day, for she harbors no illusion about Quinn's mercenary nature and his probably as cold as Antarctica heart. It is quite bittersweet to read of her attempts not to succumb to her feelings at first, which later give way to worrying about that man. Maura is a spunky, feisty heroine, a wonderful character indeed.

Also, the author's writing is excellent, the pace fast and never faltering. The book is populated by characters that have a most disturbing familiarity with firearms, but this is good. No sissyfooting around the unruly and untamed Western atmosphere so that faint-hearted grannies won't die of shock nonsense here (I've read a book where this tough, macho, superhuman spy-espionage agent gets shot in his stomach and yells Ouch! That hurts! - a book tailor-made for grannies, I suppose).

But where the author falters is in Quinn. Of all the characters in this book (those that matter anyway), he is the weakest in terms of character development. Quinn is depressingly stock-character material. He has the ubiquitous drunk-daddy-abuses-Mom-so-now-I-won't-feel-anything family background, the usual quest for vengeance, nothing new really. It is quite a shame to see a fine heroine like Maura tied to a rather boring man like Quinn.

But hey, that's okay. No book's perfect, I guess. This book is fun, exciting, and very readable, so I'm willing to overlook the faults in the hero. Hmm, I'm in a magnanimous mood today, am I not?

Rating: 79

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