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Ransom by Julie Garwood
(Pocket Books, $24.00, PG) ISBN 0-671-00335-6
Hooray! New York Times best-selling author Julie Garwood has returned to the Highlands, hopefully leaving American shores for good. Ransom is a spin-off of Garwood's The Secret and features two heroes, Brodick Buchanan and Ramsey Sinclair, characters that we met while enjoying Ian and Judith's love story. Considering that The Secret was written in the early nineties, trying to remember the cogent details might be a little iffy. With that in mind and knowing that Brodick and Ramsey had small parts in the first book, Ransom can be read without having read The Secret.

Four-year-old Gillian and her older sister Christen see their beloved father killed by a rival, Baron Alford. Christen escapes to the Highlands, but Gillian isn't so lucky. She's going to be a pawn in Baron Alford's plans to recover a jeweled golden box commissioned by King John.

Flash forward fourteen years Gillian is again summoned to Baron Alford's holding. He's discovered the whereabouts of Christen and is sure that she knows where the box is. Alford is holding Gillian's Uncle Morgan as a hostage. Gillian must travel to the Highlands, bring Christen and the box back to England, or her uncle will be tortured to death.

Once in the Highlands, Gillian is aided by Laird Brodick Buchanan. Here's where Julie Garwood is at her finest. Watching the unfolding affection between Gillian and Brodick is worth the price of the book. Garwood has given us her trademark ditzy heroine, who is indomitable in her own mind. Gillian manages to get into the requisite predicaments, only to be rescued by mightily put-out and long-suffering Brodick. Garwood excels at building sexual tension. Our heroine may be innocent and the hero worldly-wise, but we're always treated to those tender yet explosive love scenes.

A secondary love story involves Ramsey, the gorgeously swoonable character. He's the man that neither Ian nor Brodick wanted within ten miles of their women. Ramsey's romance with Bridgid KirkConnell is brief too brief resolved too quickly and a romance that I wish had been given its own book. Bridgid is a spunky heroine who declines marriage proposals right and left. Her reply to Ramsey, her laird, is that "I won't have him." When Ramsey questions her stubborn reluctance to wed, her reply mystifies him. She won't marry a man who doesn't love her. As readers, we know to read between the lines, but Ramsey isn't that intuitive. What a dunderhead he is!

The first fifty or so pages almost lost me. I literally went back to reread, trying to put characters with names. It was identity overload there for a while. I also had a heck of a time trying to decide what had happened in the second chapter. Gillian is in England, but there's also a young boy, Alec Maitland, who's been mistaken for someone else. When I reread this part and was still somewhat lost, I made sure that my book wasn't missing any pages. This is one of the roughest transitions that I've ever read from a major author.

It's a rare historical book that I'll willingly and gladly read. Julie Garwood has always been my favorite historical author, my preeminent historical author. Her stories are relationship-based, with the historical details all sanitized. That's what I like. She doesn't veer from that formula in this one. Ransom is vintage Garwood.

And that's part of my problem. Her stories and characters are beginning to fall into the heading of "Been there, done that." But how can I really complain? Vintage Garwood is what's always attracted me in the past.

So there's nothing new or original about Ransom and I guess the bottom line is that if you're a Garwood fan, you'll probably love Ransom. And if you're in the other column, well.... twenty-four dollars is a big chunk of change for a book which breaks no new ground.

--Linda Mowery

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