Fairy Tale by Jillian Hunter
(Pocket, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-00157-4
*****
As a reader of romance, I have two visions of Scotland. One is of the Highlands written about by Kathryn Lynn Davis, the achingly romantic, robust, tragic, powerful, magical, life and love-giving Highlands. The other is the romantic, sexy, hilarious Highlands written about Julie Garwood in such classics as The Bride and Saving Grace. Fans of Julie Garwood, take note. Jillian Hunter has written a tale that combines the best of both visions in Fairy Tale, a romantic and sexy Highlands imbued with a bit of the same magic her friend Kathryn Lynn Davis has used with such success.

And by magic, I don't mean the magic conjured up by heroine Marsali Hay. I mean the kind of magic that talented authors can conjure in creating depth of feeling. It is a rare book that has me laughing and crying. In fact, since I'm dropping names all over the place, I'll drop another - Jill Barnett. Because Jillian Hunter, like Jill Barnett, has written a romance that will make you laugh and make you cry. If you loved Bewitching, you will love Fairy Tale.

Hero Duncan MacElgin is hardly the prodigal son when he returns to the Highlands to reclaim his castle, albeit for the English king. He is ambushed on his return, stripped naked, and, to further his humiliation, the leader of this raid is none other than a slip of a girl - Marsali Hay. Assuming he is a Brit, she leads her rag-tag clan on a raid. If Duncan is expecting his reputation as a devil, parent-killing, war- mongering soldier to earn the respect of this group, he's got another thing coming! Why, he can't even get into his castle after he's nearly bopped on the head by the drawbridge, which covers, instead of a moat, a free-form chicken coop (to save the locals from drowning when they fall off the ledges at night drunk) because the Cook won't allow the portcullis to be raised. It's laundry day and everyone's underwear is drying on it!

Duncan realizes that to gain control of this motley crew, he's going to have to gain control of their leader, Marsali. His plan is to reign her in, break a bit of her spirit, and, since he can't think straight when she is nearby, perhaps he'll have her in his bed too . When he discovers she is the daughter of the only man who treated him decently before he left Scotland for his army commission, he decides he must marry her off for her own good. Any creature this fey, this spirited, this beautiful, this intelligent, this special, must be taken care of. It can't be him since he's not planning to stay, and besides, how could he do that to the spirit of her dead father?

Marsali's clan and the aunt of the English girl Duncan was to have married (don't ask) decide to take matters into their own hands, as does Marsali's wizard uncle and his daughter, who is working on her own magic (she's trying to work a spell to get a man's man-thing to wilt for a month for being impertinent). After Duncan screens the eligible men of the Highlands, he comes up with 5 possible suitors, all of whom her kinsmen refuse. The introduction of each suitor and the reasons her kinsmen give for their refusals are hysterical. And so it goes, until Marsali and Duncan, with the help of her nincompoopish clan, a convent Abbess, twin piglets, and the possible magic of her uncle and true love, bring them together.

Lest you think the entire book is a romp, it isn't. The clan is loyal to the Jacobite cause, for one thing, and Duncan has his hands full trying to keep Marsali and her rag-tag raiders from the hangman's noose. Additionally, Duncan has painful secrets and a painful past; he wants nothing more than to get this castle in order and leave it for a promised Dukedom in the Borderlands. But Marsali gets to him, and he gets to her. For all her bravado, she is also lonely and in pain.

Duncan's pain is made the worse because of what his clan believes about him. Some of the gossip is true, but, bit by bit, the whole story comes out. So while Duncan is not the bastard he is thought to be, he is not by any means perfect.

Marsali believes in her heart that there is good in Duncan, although at times she believes his heart is made of stone. Her willingness to "go along" with his plans for her and the castle are her attempt to bring out the good in him. Little by little, bit by bit, Duncan is transformed, so that by the end of this delightful tale, he is not the stone-hearted soldier but a laird who can be a bit nincompoopish himself ..

Their strong physical attraction is what breaks the barriers between them. While too many authors fall back on love scenes to bring together the hero and heroine, the love scenes worked well for me because they brought forth Duncan's tender and giving side and, in the aftermath, allowed Duncan to share his past. While Fairy Tale is fairly tame in terms of "doing the deed", there is enough foreplay for the reader to enjoy. I rarely say this about "PG" books as my preference is generally for the "R" rated.

I whole-heartedly recommend Fairy Tale for readers who love tales of the Highlands, who love a funny romance, who love a bit of whimsy and magic, and for those as well who appreciate some depth in their favorite funnies. Read it - you'll love it!

--Laurie Likes Books


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