Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Cocked & Loaded by Desiree Holt

Desiree Holt is one of my favorite romance authors and I was delighted to find this full length novel when so much of her recent work is in the form of short stories or novellas. As is often the case, the main characters are star-crossed lovers, who began a torrid love affair, only to have it end abruptly two days later when bad-boy Zane Cameron was in the hot embrace of another woman right outside the local watering hole, in plain sight of all and sundry including Jamie Randall. Not too long after that Jamie left Amen, Texas for greener pastures and she hasn't been seen or heard from for 12 years--that is, until her career was in the tank, her resources depleted due to legal expenses, and no where else to go. She has now returned to live in the ramshackle hovel in which she was raised as the daughter of the town drunk. Her dad is dead of a recent automobile accident and the house and the land are hers. She wouldn't be here if she had anywhere else to go!!

Unable to believe his eyes, now-Sheriff Zane Cameron spies Jamie Randall leaving the local supermarket. He has nurtured his anger against her for 12 years--anger because she up and left him, anger because her bigot of a father threw him off their property when he was trying to resolve things with Jamie--complete with racial slurs at his half-Commanche origins, anger because he still fantasizes about her and needs to find a way to get her out of his blood. He even goes so far as to try to find a pretense to run her out of town. She's not moving, especially when out of the blue one of the local "fat cats" tries to buy her house and land for an unheard of price. What's with this? Her reporter's instincts also kick in when she sees her dad's pick-up complete with all the new dents from the accident, and they don't seem to square with the accident report. That doesn't seem to go over well with the Sheriff either.

This story is a contemporary romance set in contemporary Texas complete with heat and dust, murder, transporting illegals, a sexy sheriff with a mother from Hell, mysterious goings-on that just seem to get more and more mysterious, a long-lost love that is buried so very deep under layers of hurt and anger, and friendship and loyalty that seem to fill in all the empty holes. There are trust issues between Zane and Jamie, largely because of his flare for infidelity oh so long ago, and working through all the old wounds makes this a compelling love story against the suspense backdrop.

Another major component in their love story is the reality that both Zane and Jamie have really grown up, have established themselves as professionals in their own right, and found out lots about themselves. Zane really finds that he still loves Jamie, but he also knows that he has discovered that there is a dark side to him and he doesn't know if Jamie can accept that dark side of who he is. Jamie needs to restore her good name. She has been accused of wrong-doing in the newspaper business and she can't seem to move on until the entire truth comes out. Can Zane live in that kind of limbo?

I found this novel to be very readable and after reading it the second time felt that it showcased Ms Holt's considerable talent beautifully. Lots of characters, lots of hot loving, lots of situations that come right off the front page of the news, well-written with a plot and storyline that keep the reader engaged--literally on the edge of the seat. I am a Holt fan but that doesn't automatically mean that I feel positively about everything she writes. Some of her work, IMHO, is way too brief and I get the feeling sometimes that she is simply churning little stories out to keep publishers happy. Not so with this novel. It is a story that made an impact on me. There are surprises and twists in the story that I should have seen coming but didn't. That's a good story well told. Ms Holt teases the reader right up to the very final pages--no reading the ending first allowed!

This novel was published a while ago, but I think it is some of her best work. I recommend it to lovers of contemporary romance. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

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