Believe in Me

 
Dream of Me by Josie Litton
(Bantam, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-553-58436-7
****
It’s been a while since an entertaining Viking historical came on the romance scene. Dream of Me is an absorbing read full of warmth and humor, and capped with a spicy, sensual love story.

Lady Cymbra of Holyhood, sister to the man known as Hawk of Essex, is a gifted healer. She is described by many as the most beautiful woman in England. Yes Cymbra’s talents are overshadowed by a secret, one that prevents her from leaving her home. She’s an empath of sorts, and the physical pain of others nearby her is felt by her. Cymbra longs for more than her quiet life at Holyhood. Her wishes are granted in an unexpected fashion with the arrival of a small band of Vikings, prisoners. Refusing to treat them as vermin, Cymbra attends to their wounds and makes sure they have decent food.

The Norsemen’s leader, Wolf Hakonson, has deliberately allowed himself to be captured and brought inside Holyhood. His plan is to kidnap the Lady Cymbra and force her into marriage, a marriage he offered honorably but which was spurned by her brother. Such an alliance would unite the Saxons and the Norse against their common enemy, the Danes. What Wolf hadn’t counted on was his instant, dazzled attraction to the lady he’s come to kidnap.

Cymbra is duly spirited away and before she knows it, is on a Viking ship bound for Wolf’s home. Soon they are married and both are trying to convince themselves they aren’t falling in love. High-spirited, intelligent Cymbra has her hands full trying to win the respect of Wolf’s people, while being sabotaged by a jealous rival. Wolf attempts to resist his growing feelings for Cymbra, and finally admits defeat.

What works best in Dream of Me is the tight focus on the romance. There are a few extraneous conflicts, but they mostly tie up some loose threads and pave the way for the second book of the trilogy. The real story is Wolf and Cymbra. Here’s a tough, macho Viking who has his plans all laid out. Propose marriage to a stranger, who is rumored to be beautiful, for political reasons. Become outraged when the offer is rebuffed; go kidnap the woman and force her hand. Then settle down in Viking keep with resulting heirs. Life will be pleasant and tidy.

So what does Wolf get? Not a spitting she-cat (thank goodness we’re spared that cliché) but a woman gorgeous enough to make his tongue hang out, who listens to his reasoning and adds a few intelligent suggestions of his own. Who seems to care about his people. Who hasn’t any overtones at all of “spoiled heiress”. Who isn’t the least perturbed by his blustery shows of temper, and offers a sassy Saxon version of “get over yourself”. And the reader will grin as the handsome alpha male falls hard and fast for the one woman he’s sworn not to love. Ahh, comeuppance is so sweet!

Cymbra, for her part, finds that her dreams of adventure have come true, and now she isn’t quite sure what to do with them. How can she not fall for the striking warrior who kidnapped her with careless ease, yet carefully tended to her needs and shows an innate kindness? Besides, he listens to her and considers her opinions. He stands up for her in front of his people. And he introduces her to the pleasures of the bedchamber, where they discover a passion that takes them by surprise.

The one useless thread in the book is Cymbra’s empathy for pain. It’s an interesting concept, but nothing is done with it and at the end it’s treated as though it was psychosomatic in nature all along. I had the feeling the author liked the idea and then didn’t know what to do with it.

Dream of Me is a worthwhile addition to a historical lover’s bookcase. Readers should note that this is bundled as a “twofer”; the sequel, Believe in Me, is bound in the same paperback volume.

--Cathy Sova


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