Seldom am I moved to write a review. A book must either be excellent, or a steaming bowl ringer of epic odiferousness to motivate me to invest my precious time. Unfortunately, this exceedingly tedious tome falls into the latter category. It is one of the top two or three most dreadful romance novels I've read. It is really, really, really, bad. I cannot emphasize this enough. It... is... bad.
This review is a public service and hopefully a word of caution to Avon, whose new releases are generally excellent, but this re-release of a book first published in 1988 was a BIG mistake. I expect clever, well-written, sexy historicals from Avon. Perhaps they wanted to prevent the title from being backlisted, but that is exactly what should have happened. Avon should have consigned it to the dungheap of history and disavowed all prior connection. A sexy new cover cannot compensate for the crappity-crap-crap-crap fouling the pages inside. It is 80 chapters long plus the obligatory happy ending epilogue. That's 80 chapters and an obligatory happy ending epilogue too long. (I won't even get into the maudlin histrionics of the seven-page prologue, presumably intended to give depth and backstory to the otherwise shallow, insipid main character. It doesn't.)
The heroine Miranda is the daughter of an English earl, a "sheltered and naive" girl raised in a convent. For unfathomable reasons, her father arranges a marriage between Miranda and a rancher in the most dangerous, lawless section of Texas, where Comancheros rape, pillage, capture women to sell into prostitution or slavery, commit arson, murder, and generally bedevil the good folk of that newly independent state at will and on a regular basis. Into this lawless land the annoying Miranda is thrust.
The foul-mouthed, rude, rough, but incredibly hot Derek Bragg, a Texas Ranger (what else?) is sent by his best friend John (Miranda's fiancee), who is unable to escort her himself due to a riding accident. John fell in love with Miranda simply from seeing her portrait when she was but a tween (kinda gross). How and when he saw it is unclear, considering that the Earl lives in England and John in Texas... an otherwise unexplained "business" trip. It is just one of the many things that make no sense in this tragic literary contretemps.
We learn Derek is an ultra-lusty sort of man who "takes" a different woman nearly every night, whores, bar wenches, laundresses, snaggletoothed squaws, whatever. He's not particular. Being preternaturally horny and handsome would seem to make him a poor choice to escort the innocent young Miranda, but John evidently trusts Derek, an Apache half-breed with mad manly skills. You can guess where it goes from there... of course Derek is attracted to tiny, violet-eyed Miranda. The reader is not. Miranda whines endlessly about everything; she is not so much innocent as stupid and annoying. She is forever "gasping in indignation" or "crying out in indignation" or "screaming in indignation" then "lifting her skirts and fleeing into the woods" or some such place where Derek must save her hapless self from plummeting ravines, lacerated feet, roving predators, marauding Indians, etc. Miranda is shocked and confused by all that wanton pulsing between her legs when she looks at the "stallion" Bragg who takes his shirt off more often than a redneck at a tractor pull. She is always asking to go to confession (to tell a priest about the wanton pulsing, I presume). At times I suspected Miranda might be "special"... if you catch my meaning... but then she'd trot out some random brainy factoid intended to let the reader know she's not a complete cabbage head.
The reader keeps slogging through, hoping irritating Miranda will soon run into a tree and knock some sense into herself. No such luck.
Because she's so durn pretty, a cut-throat Comanchero named Chavez (who is, of course, also incredibly hot) decides he must have her. His sexy malevolent presence is woven throughout. He abducts her no less than twice, the first time violating her digitally after she frigidly denies him, but leaving her still "innocent". Derek rescues her and severely wounds the digital fondler, then delivers her to John. She frigidly denies her new husband his marital rights, giving in but thrice amidst much weeping and bleeding. Oy! Love-struck John does not suffer long because he is soon murdered after Miranda complains of being felt up at a ho down by a very dangerous man (who all but told her he would murder John if she told him... thanks for that, Miranda). Love-struck Derek then weds her and she frigidly denies him. Then the love-struck Comanchero abducts and wants to marry her. She of course, frigidly denies him, just as she did before he digitally raped her, then he rapes her in the more conventional fashion. Derek rescues her and Lorena Bobbits the Comanchero before killing him. Miranda is abducted one final time near the end of the book and I was screaming, "Oh God, no! Not again!" Derek eventually finds her, sort of on accident, at a whorehouse just before she turns her first trick. Did I mention she's pregnant with the Comanchero's wee nipper who Derek is having a hard time accepting? By this time, I was thinking, "Shoot me! Shoot me, now!"
The entire time I was reading Innocent Fire, I hoped in vain that the book would spontaneously combust, but it didn't and Miranda continued to annoy me, John, Chavez, and Derek for way too many chapters. I would have bailed, but it's not in my nature to give up when the going gets tough. I simply had to see if every layer exposed another layer as cheesy and vacuous as the last. I'd give this zero stars, if that was an option.