Shores of Desire by Tracy Grant
(Dell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22168-4
*****
Robert Lescaut, an officer in Napoleon's Imperial French Army, travels to Ostend in pursuit of his errant Scottish-born wife, Lucie Sorel. But instead of finding her with a new lover as he expected, he finds her dying from knife wounds. Too weak to speak, the only clue she can offer before she dies is a ring with a distinctive crest. For the sake of their son, Robert takes the ring and vows to discover who murdered his wife and to avenge her murder.

Four years later in Scotland, Emma Blair is in the midst of attempting to rescue a neighbor, Charlie Lauder, from his own folly when a man and boy ride up and help her. The man introduces himself as Robert Melton and the boy as his son David. As chance would have it, Robert says he has been traveling to Blair House, to speak to Emma, who is the widow of a man he served with in Spain. Emma invites all three men to Blair House.

A lively attraction springs up between Robert and Emma from the moment they meet. It is based as much on compatibility of outlook as it is on physical attraction. However, matters do not run smoothly between them in the beginning. Emma is afraid that she is misinterpreting the way Robert looks at her, believing she sees him offer the same warm, intimate smile to her beautiful cousin, Arabel. And Robert is aware that he is deceiving Emma even as he wonders if he is attracted to her because of her resemblance to Lucie Sorel.

Shores of Desire takes place during the three months before and three months after the battle of Waterloo. Not only is it a study of a particular time in world history, it is also a mystery and a love story. It says something about Tracy Grant's skill as a writer that none of these elements is scanted. I found myself soaking up the fragile peace of Scotland during a lull in the hostilities, the frenetic gaiety of Brussels in the days before Waterloo, and the dislocated bitterness of post-Waterloo Paris. While absorbing the moods of these different times and places, I also puzzled over the mystery of Lucie Sorel, her relationship to the Blairs and the reasons for her death. Above all, I was engaged by the romance between Robert and Emma.

Emma is able to talk to Robert as she has never been able to talk to another human being, while he finds her combination of strength and emotional generosity compelling. Their relationship begins as a friendship but does not linger there for long. Unlike many romances where the attraction between the hero and heroine seems to be confined to the hunger of one appealing physique for another, the physical awareness Robert and Emma have of one another serves to heighten the sense each has that the other is a soulmate. These two people are made for one another and I found myself rooting for their happy ending as if it was not a foregone conclusion.

If you are looking for a romance that has mystery, a historical romance that is steeped in history but never overwhelmed by it, for a romance between two characters you can't help liking and wanting to see happy, go get Shores of Desire. I will be on the hunt for Tracy Grant's backlist.

--Katy Cooper


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