Autumn Flame

Winter Fire by Lynne Hayworth
(Zebra, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-6884-0
Lachlan Maclean lost everything after the Battle of Culloden. Left with a deformed hand, a dead wife, an estate in ruins, and two younger brothers banished to the Colonies would be enough to bring any strapping alpha hero to his knees - but it is not what grieves his heart the most. It is believed that Lachlan is a traitor, having fought on the side of the British.

Fiona Fraser was a young girl when Culloden changed the Scottish landscape forever. Her family had the misfortune of backing Bonnie Prince Charlie; so, like many good Jacobites, they leave for France, and a life of exile. Fiona is more French than Scottish, but does marry into the exiled Maclean clan, with the laird, Sir Hector being her father-in-law. Now a widow, tragedy strikes again when Sir Hector meets his maker.

On his deathbed, he tells Fiona and his wife, Maeve, to return to Scotland. Before he left the Highlands, he hid a treasure somewhere on the Maclean estate - too bad his memory is faulty and he canít exactly remember where. Thereís also the small matter of informing the next in line - which means Lachlan Maclean is now laird.

Maeve believes Lachlan is a traitor, and besides, the clan system was essentially dismantled after Culloden, but the hidden treasure is ripe with possibilities. Therefore, Fiona and Maeve travel back to their homeland, with Fiona securing work in Lachlanís kitchens. With Sir Hectorís spirit urging her to find the truth, the only thing Fiona knows for sure is that she is losing her heart to the tortured Highlander.

The third book in Hayworthís Clan Maclean series harkens back to the old school of historical romance, with a tortured alpha hero, a widowed, yet innocent heroine, and plenty of untold secrets between the two. Thereís also a touch of gothic atmosphere, which makes this story a nice trip down memory lane.

Lachlan is the sort of hero that generally doesnít hold much appeal for me, as Iím admittedly not much of an alpha girl. However, the author holds my interest with the skeletons lurking in his personal closet. Are the rumors true that he killed his first wife and betrayed his clan?

Fiona is equally as interesting, as while she is a widow, she spends quite a bit of time blushing over Lachlanís roguish advances. This sort of behavior would normally get old rather quickly for this reader, but the author writes Fionaís character with an underlying reason, intelligence, and sixth sense, that intrigued me.

The secondary characters are also appealing, including Fionaís salty mother-in-law, Maeve, and two villains - Sorcha, the other woman, and Duncan Campbell, Lachlanís dastardly brother-in-law. Sir Hectorís ghost, King George III, and Lachlanís old nurse, Rinalda, round out the cast of colorful characters.

Likeable characters, an interesting array of secondary players and gothic atmosphere make Winter Fire an enjoyable trip to the Highlands. With her third book under her belt, readers would do well to keep an eye on Lynne Hayworth - I know I will.

--Wendy Crutcher

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