Marco and the Devil’s Bargain by Carla Kelly

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The year is 1782. Marco Mondragón, brand inspector in Spanish New Mexico, and his wife Paloma Vega have settled happily into married life on the Double Cross. And yet Paloma is convinced their joy will not be complete until she has a child. She longs to give her husband a baby to soothe his grief over the death from cholera of his first wife and twin sons. Marco’s land grant stands at the edge of the most dangerous region in the Southwest: Comanchería.

Both Paloma and Marco have suffered at the hands of the fierce Comanche, losing beloved family members in raids. Despite their fear and mistrust of the Comanche, one lives among them. Paloma rescued Toshua from slavery and near death. As much as she respects the man now, Paloma wishes he would return to the Staked Plains, Comanche stronghold to the east in Texas. No one knows why Toshua remains at the Double Cross. Is it because his own tribe shunned him, or is he genuinely attached to its owners? Now a new enemy threatens the Mondragóns’ domestic bliss: the Dark Wind—la viruela, smallpox—barreling down on the defenseless royal colony from Comanchería. A mysterious and arrogant English physician named Anthony Gill offers their one hope at salvation … but only if Marco agrees to his Devil’s Bargain. Book Two in the Spanish Brand series, which began with The Double Cross.

Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1782
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

In her previous book, The Double Cross, Carla Kelly introduced us to Marco and Paloma Mondragon, and what I thought was their happy ever after. It turns out that wasn’t the case, as their story continues in this, Book Two of The Spanish Brand Series. The couple has now been married over a year, and are very happy, except for the fact that they’ve been unable to conceive a child. A new threat is now on the horizon – it appears that smallpox is heading their way. Marco has been inoculated, but Paloma has not. A stranger, Anthony Gill, arrives in town, seeking out Marco. He claims to be a doctor, and is willing to give the vaccine to Paloma, but at a price. He wants Marco to escort him to a valley controlled by the Comanche, where no white man has gone, to find his kidnapped daughter. As Marco is terrified of losing Paloma to disease, as he lost his first wife and sons to cholera, he reluctantly agrees to this Devil’s Bargain.

There is a risk with the vaccine – it can be fatal in some cases – but Paloma is willing to take her chances. She becomes ill, but recovers after several days. She has no intention of letting Marco travel to the valley without her. He adamantly refuses to take her with him, but she is adamant that she would rather die with him than live without him. Marco knows that she would only follow on her own, so he reluctantly agrees, and they begin their journey along with Anthony Gill and Toshua, the Comanche who has become Paloma’s unofficial guardian since she saved his life.

The journey is arduous. They battle cold, hunger, wild animals, and hostile natives, not to mention the rugged terrain. Eventually they encounter some members of Toshua’s former tribe, including his “first” wife, who travel along with them. Their aid is invaluable, as once they arrive at their destination, if, indeed, they make it, they have to somehow persuade the very same Comanches who killed Gill’s wife and kidnapped his daughter to give her back. Provided, that is, they are able to leave with their own lives.

What a wonderful adventure this book is! Marco’s and Paloma’s love for each other has grown, and they express it enthusiastically and regularly, though not too explicitly. Paloma has also grown enough that she’s able to overcome her fear of Toshua and trust him. We get to see the Comanche people painted as human beings, not just killing savages. (The name the Comanche women give Marco when they see him naked is priceless!)

Carla Kelly has written another masterpiece about a time and place you don’t typically read about in a historical romance. Her descriptions are vivid, and she doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of how hard life was then. Her characters are well rounded, and interesting. The plot is exciting, and has a couple twists at the end that I didn’t see coming. This amazing story truly satisfies a love of both romance and history and I recommend it most highly.

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