Whisper Always

A Hint of Heather by Rebecca Hagan Lee
(Jove, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-129054
A Hint of Heather is the type of seductive Scottish historical that will definitely please lovers of that setting. Neil Claremont, Earl of Derrowford and heir to the Marquess of Chisenden, is not-so-happily working away supervising the architecture of Fort Augustus in Scotland, 1716. His superior is an idiot, the weather in Scotland is foul, and as much as he loves his work, he couldn't pick a more miserable situation in which to do it. He especially despises the clans whose stubbornness and refusal to bow to superior military might make it necessary for him to be here and not in London.

Meanwhile, Clan MacInnes is on its last legs. Most of the healthy men have been killed in battle; now the old laird's daughter, Jessalyn, (sorry, that just does not sound Scottish in the least) is head of the clan. Unbeknownst to Jessalyn, three members of her clan plan to kidnap Neil Claremont and make him honor an old betrothal arranged by his grandfather.

When the superior officer's jealousy of Neil causes him to chain Neil in his quarters, it's all too easy for the MacInnes folk to nab him (and two of his fellow soldiers). Neil, being an honorable man, can't argue with the evidence presented to him: his own signature on the marriage agreement, apparently engineered by his beloved grandfather. Why? Neil can only guess. But feeling he has no choice, he offers to wed Jessalyn, and she, knowing her clan will not survive the winter without help, agrees.

Neil is in for a shock as he gradually comes to realize just how desperate these people are, and how willing he is to make his new bride happy. And Jessalyn will find that some Englishmen aren't so hateful after all.

Neil was delightful. He falls fast and hard, and stays in love with his new wife throughout the book. No wishy-washiness here. And though readers will recognize the old "I'll only make love to you when you ask for it" plot device, at least it's handled fairly straightforwardly, although several convenient interruptions were a bit irritating. And his ingenious way of making her feel beautiful will doubtless leave any readers smiling.

Jessalyn, likewise, is presented as a strong character, one who doesn't flinch from the realities facing her people. She has no time to dream, this girl she's too busy trying to help her people survive. Her disbelief at Neil's generosity is poignant. She's had so little, now she can't believe she could have riches again.

The biggest flaw in this story, in my mind, was the rather contrived use of a "laird's secret room", which felt absolutely false and ridiculous in light of the straits of the clan. It seemed to serve no purpose other than providing a reader's fantasy. Since the author had done such an excellent job portraying the sufferings of a decimated Scottish clan, it reduced the story at that point to historical romance with a whiff of cheesiness.

Nevertheless, this story is going to be a big hit with many lovers of Scottish historicals. A Hint of Heather is a touching arranged-marriage romance with two strong leads and a lovely, vivid setting. Jessalyn and Neil may well steal your hearts.

--Cathy Sova

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