Stealing Sophie by Sarah Gabriel
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-073609-7
Debut author Sarah Gabriel has an obvious love of Scotland and she weaves a delightful tale of the days when Kings and wanna-be Kings tried to gain supremacy. But this tale is set in the Highlands and speaks of clans, honor and a wee bit of magic called love.

Sophie MacCarran, oldest daughter of the Clan MacCarren, is abducted in the night before she has had a chance to settle into her home. Her family was exiled to France and upon their return, she stayed to study and tend gardens in the convent school. Now, she has returned, only to find her brother arrested for possible treason and her betrothed (a man who coerced her father into the betrothal) turns her stomach.

She is in the grasp of a big man who reminds her of her brother, yet is filled with the voice of command and a touch as gentle as a large man can have. He is Connor MacPherson, a highland laird whose land was confiscated when his father was executed for swearing loyalty to the Stuarts. While Connor holds the title of Lord Kinnoull, the land is now in the control of the local magistrate, Sir Henry Campbell, who is also Sophie's betrothed.

Connor steals Sophie and marries her because her brother, Duncrieff, requested it, thinking to save her from Sir Henry. Connor, however, thinks he has Kate, Sophie's other sister. After much confusion and a surprising insight that he likes this sister, he realizes he has the sister her brother intended. Sophie is the heiress to the Clan MacCarran and if anything happens to Duncrieff, she controls the clan. Henry wants that control for himself.

Connor takes Sophie to a rundown old estate called Glen Doon that is reputed to be haunted by two lovers from the past that were never able to enjoy their lives and love together. This reputation serves Connor well, as it keeps the English away. He is a rogue who is determined to make life for the English miserable. He and his friends sabotage the English soldiers who are trying to build a road. In his spare time, he keeps cattle, sheep and looks after the tenants who are no longer really his.

Sophie has the gift of fairy magic she can make things grow. She weaves her magic on the land around the castle and she also sews the seeds of love with Connor. The story is somewhat character driven, as Sophie and Connor try to determine what their hearts are telling them. It is somewhat driven by Connor's need to wreck havoc on the British. And there is a small subplot about Duncrieff, his future and his reasons for really wanting these two to marry that moves the tale along too.

Sophie is a gentle lady, a little feisty and yet, her character is solid, with a strong sense of self. At times content to toil in her garden, she is nave and a bit on the uninteresting side. Then she becomes determined to be adventuresome and she demonstrates the strength of the clan leader she may yet become.

Connor is a bit of an enigma too. He is coarse and full of risk to spoil the English plots. Then he is gentle and caring and yearning for a home of his own. Next he is anguished over all that has occurred and he pours his heart into his fiddle, making eerie music in the middle of the night. He is a loner, yet has lots of comrades. He seeks out companionship, yet strives to be alone with his thoughts. I enjoyed his interactions with Sophie, but their relationship never fully hit its stride, making the enjoyment a bit uneven.

Stealing Sophie overall, is a richly detailed tale of the Scottish highlands and includes a bit of intrigue, a bit of sorrow, and a basically satisfying love story. There is enough enjoyment that makes it a nice read and puts Sarah Gabriel on my "authors to keep an eye out for" list.

-- Shirley Lyons

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