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Prairie Moon    by Maggie Osborne order for
Prairie Moon
by Maggie Osborne
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2002

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

James Cameron managed to disassociate himself from the carnage and brutality of the Civil War by labeling his victims as the faceless enemy. But the day he killed Clarence Ward in self defense, Cameron made a grave mistake - he looked into the Confederate soldier's eyes. As he watched the other man's life drain away, Cameron realized that for him the senseless killing was over. He threw down his rifle and headed west with nothing more than the clothes on his back, and a packet of letters and a picture from Ward's widow.

Over the next decade Cameron builds an unrivaled reputation as a feared lawman and gunfighter. He tells himself that delivering justice to those who truly deserve it might one day absolve him of the lives he took during the war. But after ten long years he has yet to purge himself of his guilt over Clarence Ward's death, and for the miserable existence he knows Ward's wife, Della, has suffered since. Worse, Cameron has fallen in love with the beautiful young widow depicted in the fading picture he still carries with him.

When James Cameron finally rides up the dirt road to Della Ward's broken-down farm, something about his manner tells her that this hard and silent man has come bearing the news she's dreaded hearing for so long - how Clarence died. She knows her husband went to his grave thinking she hated him. Her last letter was full of venom, chastising Clarence for leaving her alone and pregnant, and with the extra responsibility of caring for his ailing parents. Cameron shares Clarence's last moments, but chooses to omit the fact that he was the killer.

He stays on to help Della around the farm and the more she begins to trust and rely on him, the more Cameron wishes he could bury the truth forever. But in his heart he knows that no matter how much he loves her, keeping the truth from her would be disastrous to them both. When he offers to escort Della to Atlanta to find the daughter she was forced to give up, Della leaps at the chance. But during their weeks alone crossing the plains, love blossoms and deepens and Cameron knows that a future with Della will be impossible unless he reveals the secrets of the past.

Maggie Osborne once again gives her readers a poignant, character driven historical romance. While not one of her best - the story suffers from a bit too much redundancy and over-introspection in various chapters - Osborne continues to be one of the best western romance writers around. Her female leads are never shrinking violets and her men are as real as they come. This one is more serious than her last few books, highlighting two damaged souls torn apart by pasts over which they had little control. Western romance fans shouldn't miss Prairie Moon.

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