Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Silken Promises by Lisa Bingham

My Experience: A
Synopsis:  When Fiona McFee first meets the straight-laced deputy Jacob Grey, he is naked and bound in a field of foxtails. A con man’s daughter through and through, Fiona leaves him there as he swears to never forget her. True to his word, Jacob tracks Fiona to Chicago years later, and he has an offer for her that she can’t refuse: A full pardon for her and her father in exchange for her help in catching a counterfeiter. All she must do is pose as a wealthy British widow and play poker on a tourist train heading West.
With her freedom at stake, as well as another chance to outwit Jacob, Fiona must perfect her poker face as she gambles for the fate of her future. But neither she, nor Jacob, can ignore the undeniable attraction between them, and as the stakes of their deadly game soar to new heights, the thin line between inevitable danger and unyielding desire begins to blur.

I thoroughly enjoyed Silken Promises, a re-issue from 1994.  Silken Dreams is the story before, but I read this one without need of reading the first.  Set in Chicago in 1885, a cross between My Fair Lady and Maverick (the movie), I was hearing stirring theme music before the third chapter.  The plot seems to be predictable, but it isn't - well, except for the two elderly aunts that steal a bag of dynamite, "to get rid of gophers and other varmints."  But even if it was, this is totally a character driven story with incidentals of violence, villainy and believable sexual tension that keeps you reading, laughing and cheering them on.

Jacob Grey is a lawman.  Fiona McFee is a woman with a shady past.  He needs a proficient gambler to catch a counterfeiter, she needs a pardon for her father.  They transform before each other's eyes from worthy adversary to tentative friendship that barely labels how they both really feel.  But Jacob isn't ready to introduce his wife, a pardoned criminal, to all and sundry.  Fiona isn't willing to settle for crumbs of begrudged affection.  I admired them both for their honesty and common sense; even when it went flying out the window.

The writing is subtly crafted, almost sneaky, appearing to amble along, yet every seemingly insignificant detail is exactly where it should be.  Dialog is charming and the cadence perfectly timed; you can laugh and groan without a shade of embarrassment.  The characters are fully developed, grow and progress in a credible manner while advancing the story and romance.  Secondary characters are enlivening without apology for being full bodied.  I loved the poor tailor, Mr. Peebles and the dynamite stealing aunts but they never "stole the show" though I wanted them to.

Vengeance being sought, justice being served and where the line between the letter and spirit of the law truly is are not new themes.  Ms. Bingham handles them all with refreshing consideration by characters that struggled to not only find the line but also to hold on to it.  Bungling as Jacob could be with regards to Fiona's feelings, he genuinely tried to make things right.  Frustrating as Fiona's predicament could be, she truly wanted to do what was better than she'd had a chance to before.  He wasn't too arrogant to endure and she wasn't too prideful to live; both features in many American Historical Romances that I struggle with.  There was just the right amount of humble and hopeful in both of them.

The happily ever after wasn't rushed, the resolution both amusing and satisfying and the potential for a sequel as valid twenty years later as when the novel was first published.  I'm not sure how I missed this book and author back in the day, except, well, I was busy having children and generally fell asleep before page ten of *any* book.  I'm delighted these works are being re-issued (with gorgeous covers!) in e-format so I can catch up on what I missed.   If you're looking for a thoroughly American historical romance, I recommend Silken Promises.

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