Passion’s Prize is a Zebra Heartfire romance from 1990, later republished as Holt’s Gamble, the first in the “Wild Western Hearts” series by Barbara Ankrum. It tells the story of Kierin McKendry and Clay Holt in 1854 Missouri.
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Imprint or Line: Zebra Heartfire
Book Series: Wild Western Hearts #1
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Western Romance
Format: Paperback, eBook
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon
TOTAL SPOILER ALERT ⚠
This review is of Passion’s Prize, a Zebra Heartfire romance from 1990. The book was later republished in ebook form as Holt’s Gamble. It is the first entry in the “Wild Western Hearts” series by Barbara Ankrum.
In 1854, in Independence, Missouri, Kierin McKendry is working as an indentured servant for an evil man named John Talbot, who forces her to work off her indenture at his bar.
One night, Talbot is playing poker with a group of men. Among them is Clay Holt. Talbot wagers Kierin in the game, and Clay wins her. Clay and Kierin escape the bar, and Talbot–who has a history with Clay–pursues them.
Kierin takes Clay, who was stabbed by Talbot, to the wagon train that Clay had intended to join for the journey from Missouri to the West. Kierin remains by his side to care for his wounds.
While journeying westward, Kierin is compelled to fabricate a falsehood and claims that she and Clay are married to each other. This deceit is necessary due to the train’s leader, a Reverend who prohibits unaccompanied women from boarding.
We learn about both Kierin and Clay’s pasts–both have endured heartache–and they start to develop romantic, loving feelings for each other, which, naturally, they don’t communicate to the other party. This leads to a major communication breakdown after they make love.
This is resolved, and they are happy for a while.
The end of the book features several dramatic events. Kierin finds her family–father, Asa, and younger brother, Matthew–but Talbot finds her. This leads to a confrontation between Clay and Talbot.
There is sadness and, eventually, love as Clay and Kierin marry and have their Happily Ever After.
The best part of Passion’s Prize is the last quarter, where a lot is revealed, action takes place, and everything in the book is brought to a resolution.
The book is a little slow out of the gate, and the characters could be slightly more in-depth.
The two to three sex scenes are fairly mild, focused more on the feelings of the act as opposed to the mechanics.
While there is a good deal of violence–assaults, attempted rape, killings–the majority of it is not described in graphic detail.
Bottom Line on Passion’s Prize
Passion’s Prize by Barbara Ankrum is not a 5-star book, but it does come in for me in the soft 4-star category.
Her fate was in the cards…
Kierin McKendry was humiliated when the cold-hearted owner of her indenture papers used her as a tempting ante in a game of poker and lost her to a rugged, dark-haired stranger. But she was thrilled when her handsome new master offered to free her–if she would pretend to be his bride. The harmless deception seemed a small price to pay for liberty, but Kierin never expected that Clay’s nearness would torment her so. Night after night, she lay beside him, longing to be enfolded in his masculine warmth. And when he finally turned to her, his sky-blue eyes aflame with passion as he pressed his lips against hers, explored her rounded curves and taught her the way of love, she knew Clay Hold would own her forever.
He drew the queen of hearts…
Tossing his winning cards on the table, Clay Hold reluctantly claimed his prize in the smoke-filled saloon — the auburn-haired Kierin McKendry, whose green eyes flashed in anger and fear as she realized her fate was now in his hands. The rugged frontiersman had no room for her in his Oregon-bound wagon train, nor in his battered heart, but he despised the low-down cheat who’d just gambled Kierin away, and Holt relished robbing the scoundrel of such a fetching possession. He’d only intended to win Kierin so that he could set her free, but once Holt tasted her full pink lips, touched her soft form and teased her into surrender, he wanted to hold her in love’s ultimate embrace and forever treasure passion’s prize.Passion’s Prize by Barbara Ankrum