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The Touch of Fire

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After four years on the run, outlaw Rafferty (Rafe) McCay's face wears ``the remote expression of a man who had seen and caused so much death that it no longer touched him.'' Annie Parker is the lone doctor in boomtown Silver Mesa, a woman with a ``worn, weary look'' but with ``softness in her brown eyes'' and healing magic in her hands. An unlikelier pair could not be found, yet fate and a gunshot wound throw them together in Howard's ( Angel Creek ) new novel, set in Arizona territory in the 1870s . When Rafe forces Annie to come along and tend his gunshot wound, what begins as a kidnapping flowers into passion and love, but Howard's set-up is so obvious that her protagonists' coupling--the only real touch of fire in this book--is never really in doubt. Minimal tension provided by several run-ins with bounty hunters leads to the maximal tension of myriad graphic sexual encounters. Slowed down by redundancy and verbosity, Howard's tale wends its way cross-country towards its rather inevitable happy conclusion, with one truly moving segment wherein Rafe and Annie risk their lives to treat a settlement of seriously ill Apaches. (Oct.)

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