cover image Branded Hearts

Branded Hearts

Shannon Drake. Avon Books, $5.99 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-380-77170-7

How refreshing: a heroine who runs a bordello, can take care of herself very well, thank you, and isn't above uttering the occasional curse word. Spirited Ann McCastle, when not warning assorted evildoers off with her shotgun, manages her own wild west saloon. After her partner dies, Ann carries on solo, until the enigmatic Ian McShane shows up, claiming her partner sold him controlling shares in the saloon just before his death. In order to keep rival businessmen and amorous customers at bay, Ian suggests that he and Ann marry. The fact that strong-willed Ann gives in to the suggestion with relatively little argument is a bit out of character, but with so much going on in the plot, it's easy to forgive. Once married, Ann realizes she's given up much more than her maiden name. How is she going to keep Ian in the dark about the secret door in her bedroom, used for slipping away in order to aid the town's underdogs against the resident land baron? In typical Drake style (Knight of Fire), the plot moves right along with a plethora of interesting secondary characters and story lines, including flashbacks of Indian massacres, whores with hearts of gold, arson, loyal lawyers, a French chef and a theater-struck young man who quotes Defoe. (Feb.)