Fairy Tale


The Husband Hunt by Jillian Hunter
(Pocket, $6.99, R ) ISBN 0-7434-1791-7
At TRR, much discussion has been devoted to the ‘Alpha Male”. Typically strong, direct, self-assured, inscrutable, he may also be something of a bully, really. He is great raw material for romance, though, in the hands of an author who knows how to handle him. Likewise it takes a smart and shrewd heroine to navigate around him, reveling in his strength and magnetism without being overwhelmed by him. In Jillian Hunter’s newest historical, The Husband Hunt, we have a heroine who deals with her Alpha hero very well.

In 1814, Catriona Grant is desperate to escape Scotland and her bad-tempered older brother, James. He plans to marry her off to a wealthy widower who is three times her age. With only her aging uncle Thomas to escort her and a few meager belongings in a bag, Catriona turns up in Devon, England, looking every bit the part of a poor relation. Cat wants help from her cousin, Sir Lionel Deering, but is disappointed to learn that Lionel was killed in battle three years earlier. She’s told that his widow, Olivia, lives in the area with her brother, Viscount Rutleigh, a man whose reputation as a rake is widespread. Increasingly unsure of her plan, Cat decides to appeal to Olivia and contend with Rutleigh as the situation demands. She shows up one evening on the Rutleigh grounds looking understandably shabby after having traveled south on foot.

Knight Dennison, Viscount Rutleigh, is generally renowned as a lady’s man. Though never married, he was once romantically linked to a local beauty. While Knight was away in the army, his intended ultimately married an older, more staid gentleman. His pride stung, Knight is living a quiet country life with his sister. His childhood friend, Wendell Grenville, Duke of Meacham, is a frequent houseguest.

Knight is suspicious of Catriona, although he sees some physical resemblance to Lionel in her. She produces a family heirloom as proof of her claim, but Knight is not convinced enough to trust her. Even as Olivia decides to accept Cat as Lionel’s cousin, Knight takes steps to delve into her past. He’s put out when Olivia becomes determined to sponsor Cat into country society in order to find her a husband. To make matters worse, his Aunt Marigold is on hand to take up Olivia’s cause. The conversations that take place between these ladies and Knight are a delight.

Despite his initial distrust of Cat, Knight sees his sorrowful sister transform, becoming more vibrant than she has been since Lionel’s death. He decides to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, the unusual Catriona charms him. She is pretty, but more complex than she first appears. Knight learns that she is in fact Lionel’s distant cousin, but born on the wrong side of the blanket and never recognized by her father.

Cat has had a very unconventional life, and Lionel also learns that she is gifted with the Celtic ‘sight’. This flies in the face of Knight’s extreme English cynicism. She is also smart, well-educated, witty, and resourceful enough to handle her current situation. She uses a survivor’s instinct to deal with the strong men in her life. Catriona faces up to the things that scare her, like her brother, and her strange Uncle Murdo who represents the magical world that is mostly unknown to her, She stands up to Knight, their witty dialogue enhancing the tension that builds nicely into intense attraction. It’s not hard to imagine that these two would form a lusty relationship with each other, and they do.

A bonus for readers is the sweet romance that grows from the friendship between Wendell and Olivia as they face up to their true feelings. There is something comforting and reassuring in their affection. On the other hand, some readers may be bothered by elements of the story, such as Catriona’s mystical powers and some characters who seem other-worldly, or by Knight’s forceful nature. I found that the story was enhanced by these things. Cat and Knight were more appealing because of their flaws and quirks, and such wonderful dialogue goes a long way toward providing the ultimate enjoyment from a romance novel.

Novels that include elements of the supernatural face the challenge of maintaining credibility, but The Husband Hunt proves that it can be done. Jillian Hunter serves up a story that is greatly enhanced by unique, smart characters. Knight is ‘Alpha’ through it all, but we can still pick out the more tender side of him, when he shows how the people he loves matter more to him than anything else. I can’t think of anything more romantic.

--Deann Carpenter

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