This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12139-8
This Is All I Ask is a warm, beautifully moving story of two wounded souls finding each other. Not a new premise by any means, but the depth of characterization and deft development of the romance make this novel a standout. This could well be one of the most emotionally satisfying reads of 1997.

Gillian of Warewick is an unlikely heroine. Tall, thin, with a face that has always been called plain, Gillian is a shy and miserable creature, totally lacking in confidence. Her only pleasure is her secret training in swordplay which had been fostered by her late brother, William, a pleasure which often earns her beatings at her father's hands.

Gillian is horrified to learn that her father has virtually sold her to Christopher of Blackmour, a notorious warrior rumored to practice the black arts. Christopher's friend Colin of Berkhamshire, himself a warrior of reknown, arrives to escort her to her new husband's home on the coast of northern England. Gillian's protests earn her a blow on the cheek by her father. Desperately afraid and unsure of how to escape, Gillian leaves with Colin. Colin seems sympathetic, and his protection is a bit of a relief.

Blackmour Castle is not what Gill expects. Set on a rocky outcrop far above the sea, she is enchanted by her first glimpse of the waves against the rocks far below her window. Her first glimpse of Christopher is less encouraging. He barely spares her a glance, reinforcing her belief that she mist be the ugliest creature in Christendom. Her own husband-to-be can barely stand the sight of her.

Christopher couldn't react to her looks if he tried. He's blind, the result of an attack and injury several years earlier. His reputation as a servant of Satan is a carefully crafted shield to prevent his enemies from assaulting his lands. Gillian quickly figures out Christopher's affliction, and as she begins to understand his vulnerability and kindheartedness, her feelings are touched. If only she wasn't ugly. If only she had more courage.

Christopher, for his part, is instantly drawn to this gentle girl, the sister of his closest friend. His promise to care for her at first seems to be a noose around his neck. The noose quickly changes to a silken cord of desire as his feelings of protectiveness surface. If only he wasn't blind. If only he could be sure she didn't pity him.

What follows is a wonderful tale involving three somewhat bumbling witches, "magic" herbs, loyal friends, and a beautiful, moving love story which will have you glued in your seat, turning the pages. Gillian's transformation from shy rabbit to confident lover may seem a bit fast-paced, but is entertaining and plausible. Christopher's fear of love and his desperate need for reassurance is touching without being maudlin or self-pitying. As a hero, he rates a ten.

The secondary characters are just as delightful. The witches offer a bit of comic relief, as does Colin. The father offers just the right amount of nastiness to balance the story. And other friends pop in and out, adding their own flavor.

It's been a long time since I've read a romance that was so totally focused on two characters. There is very little in the way of extraneous plot here. This is a romance in the truest sense of the word: the development of a sure and lasting love between two people who are absolutely right for each other. Lynn Kurland wisely gives the reader an opportunity to savor the romance as Gillian and Christopher find their way to each other well before the story finishes. The final conflict and resolution are entirely in character, without a single false step. Masterfully done.

My advice is to review the contents of your keeper shelf and make room for This Is All I Ask. This one gets my wholehearted recommendation. Kudos to Lynn Kurland, and how soon will her next book be out?

--Cathy Sova

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