A Wanted Woman
by Rebecca Wade, historical (2000)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81618-0

A friend told me I may like A Wanted Woman much better than I did Rebecca Wade's debut, An Unlikely Outlaw. Well, she's right. AWW doesn't exactly blow me away, but there's an embryo of a good story in here somewhere, almost but not quite overshadowed by the author's inexperience and lack of polish in her writing style.

Wren Bradley, after being unceremoniously jilted by Cord Caldwell five years ago (she was only 16 and really naive), decides to show propriety and decorum the finger. She wants to be an actress on stage. After a nightime escapade gone awry and she stumbles into a Western crossfire between Cord and a villain, her father decides to sic Cord on her as a bodyguard. But uh oh, Wren is going to Austin for an audition, and nobody's going to stop her.

I like Wren, for she is an intriguing mix of feisty determination and vulnerability. Of course, her impulsiveness and silliness (she does two major stupid things in this story, both involving firearms, or her complete inability to deal with them) are easier to swallow seeing her background as a completely sheltered and absolutely pampered rich girl. But there's just something in Wren's determination to have fun and never life let her down that is infectious.

But Cord - bah. What a boring, stereotypical "quiet man on vengeance and has problems with commitment because of parents" hero. I can't warm up to him at all. In fact, I can't help wishing he would just buzz off and let the more interesting Other Man run the show.

In fact, in AWW there are many glimpses of brilliance. The villain isn't a stereotypical cackling psychopath, he is as real as a villain could be in his insecurity. And there is a really, really good mini in-story about Wren's perfect sister and her suspicions about her husband's strange behaviors. Now, this short side-story is so brilliantly told that I really emphatize with Elizabeth Bradley as she realizes that maybe perfection isn't that easy an image to live with. The conclusion to this mini episode, a happy one if I may add, lends just the right touch of humor and poignancy to cap off the otherwise rather tepid and lightweight romance between Wren and Cord.

AWW isn't perfect - I wish Wren didn't do the stupid things she do at times in the name of comic relief. I wish Cord is more interesting and less predictable. But hey, AWW is particularly memorable because it hints very vividly at what a wonderful story it could've been. And it's always wonderful to read a new author's follow-up that is light years better than her debut.

I wouldn't know how this book would fare with readers unfamiliar with Miss Wade's previous book - probably readers who don't mind heroines jumping off into danger gleefully will love it better than those who do. But me, I find myself rereading this one a day after the first reading. It's not a very good story, it's not a very bad story, but this time, I can't help but to be charmed by the author's voice, Wren's unforced joie de vivre, and the promises the author hints at in this book and hopefully delivers in the next.

Rating: 83

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