Bewitching the Baron
The Changeling Bride

Of Midnight Born by Lisa Cach
(Love Spell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52399-X
Of Midnight Born is an enjoyable ghost romance featuring a bitter, intelligent woman who died a violent death five hundred years earlier. When the story opens, Serena Clerenbold is desperately trying to work the fields of her family’s keep. The Black Death has killed off many of the people, and the serfs who are left have gone to Hugh le Gayne’s holding to work for better pay. Serena and her brother Thomas are all that is left of their family. In desperation, facing a winter of starvation, Serena comes up with a bold plan. She and Thomas will kidnap Hugh le Gayne and hold him ransom. The barter price will be marriage to Serena. Though Hugh is fifty, fat, and repulsive, he will give Serena children and enable her to purchase a horse and armor for Thomas, who wishes to ride off to war with the Black Prince.

Fast forward to 1832. Astronomer Alex Woding has purchased the rebuilt home of Hugh le Gayne, now known as Maiden Castle. He’s well aware of the possibility the place is haunted. After all, it was here, at this same castle, that Alex fell from a stairway as a boy after seeing a mysterious figure. But Maiden Castle offers the perfect place for his astronomy studies of shooting stars. If there’s a ghost, well, he can live with that.

Serena is determined to drive out this interloper and his household of menservants. She’s been here at Maiden Castle for five centuries, long enough to pass into legend. Tales of her bloody body and the murder of her husband as he slept are well-known. But nobody knows the truth. Nor does she care. She just wants Alex gone.

Serena is shocked when she discovers that Alex can sense her presence. He seems to look at her. Worse, he’s not afraid of her, no matter how mischievous she is. And the more she gets to know him, the more drawn to him she is. What would he think if he saw her real form, six feet tall and with a scar on her face? Since Serena can manifest herself at will, she will soon be faced with a difficult choice, one that could end her ghostliness forever and take her from Maiden Castle for good.

Serena is one troubled spirit, and the author doesn’t shy away from showing her bitter and petulant side. Acting with no thought for anyone but herself, she at first causes unseen mayhem. Readers can understand her desire for solitude, even if she’s not instantly a sympathetic figure. As she gets to know Alex, and he presses her to reveal herself and talk to him, Serena begins to thaw. That anyone could be interested in her is a novelty. And her somewhat voyeuristic peeks at Alex in his bath further pique her curiosity. For Serena, despite her marriage and untimely death, is well-suited to haunt Maiden’s Castle.

Alex makes a bit less of an impression. He’s curious about Serena, then tantalized by the glimpses he gets of her, then tormented by dreams of her. The only solution seems to be to get to know her, if only she’ll let him. His dealings with his family, all of whom have advice about this ghost, are intelligent and genuinely funny at times.

The secondary characters are an integral part of the story, because they, too, have dealings with Serena. Her presence affects everyone at the castle, from the stablehands to Alex’s dog. Fleshing out this aspect of the story really gave it depth.

Of Midnight Born is a refreshingly witty romance between a mortal and a ghost who needs to do a bit of maturing 500 years after the fact. Lisa Cach is proving to have a uniquely entertaining voice in the world of paranormal romance. Readers will be pleased with this one.

--Cathy Sova

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