Claiming the Highlander

Master of Desire

A Pirate of Her Own

Born in Sin by Kinley MacGregor
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81790-X
Born in Sin is an enjoyable Scottish historical with a strong heroine and a wonderfully tortured hero. Author Sherrilyn Kenyon, writing as Kinley MacGregor, shifts gears with a story set during the reign of Henry II.

“Sin” MacAllister, bastard son of a Scottish laird, was banished as a child and ended up in the hands of Saracens, who trained the young boy to kill. When the story opens, Sin is a scrawny eighteen-year-old who has just been ordered to assassinate the English King Henry or face unspeakable torture. Sin manages to slip past the King’s guards into Henry’s tent, and then makes a life-altering decision: he asks the Henry for mercy, swearing to serve him faithfully in return for safe passage back to England. A friendship is born.

Twelve years later, Henry needs Sin’s cooperation in an arranged marriage to try and bring and end to unrest in Scotland. Sin objects fiercely, but ends up agreeing to marry Caledonia MacNeely. Callie is a tall redhead, now the leader of her clan, and she’s being held more or less hostage by Henry as a way of quelling raids by Highlanders on English settlements. Henry’s plan is simple: Sin and Callie will marry, they’ll return to Scotland, and Sin will find the leader of the raiders and stop him, hopefully by killing him.

Sin first meets Callie as she’s trying to escape Henry’s castle, with her little brother in tow. When Sin discovers her, Callie is blessedly mature about it and simply returns with him, with no shrieking histrionics or other nonsense that might pass for characterization from a lesser author. Sin knows she’ll try again. The next time, he rescues her brother and admits he’s astonished that they very nearly succeeded in making good their escape. He begins to think that marriage to this clever, caring woman might not be a bad thing. Callie, for her part, thinks the tall, scarred knight is attractive beyond measure and can’t understand why everyone seems to be so afraid of him. A bond begins to form between them.

Sin and Callie return to Scotland, a place Sin vowed never to go again after his banishment by his uncaring father and shrewish stepmother. Callie’s clan aren’t at all happy to find an English knight is now their laird, and they treat him accordingly, especially Callie’s sixteen-year-old brother. Callie, who is falling in love with her new husband, tries to balance all of this while helping Sin to realize he is a man who can give and receive love.

Sin is a marvelously tortured hero, and the author took care to make his background just grim enough that his personality seems to fit. Never having known love, he has avoided most contact with people, including women. It’s his belief that love only brings heartache, not that he’d know what it felt like anyway. Callie’s honesty and openness strike a chord deep inside Sin that he cannot resist, try as he might. As Callie wears away at his resistance, Sin doesn’t try all that hard to pull back.

Callie is refreshingly capable, mature, and admirable. She’s portrayed as a woman who never fit the acceptable mode for women, being too tall and too forthright. The idea that Sin might find her beautiful is almost more than she can believe. It’s fun watching these two find their way to each other. They’re a great match, and the author wisely gives them time to get to know one another before making them lovers. It’s easy to believe this is a love match that will stick.

The author brings in a cast of secondary characters in the form of Sin’s half-brothers, who are delighted to see him and figure in the plot somewhat. One gets the feeling that some of these brothers are destined for books of their own, if they haven’t already been featured.

The book drags a bit about two-thirds of the way through, as Sin keeps trying to deny his feelings for Callie and she keeps pressing forward. The setting is also a bit of a disappointment. It’s what I’d call Generic Scotland, and if it weren’t for the references to Henry II, the story could be placed anytime up to the mid-nineteenth century.

But these few flaws don’t detract from the attractiveness of the characters. They were obviously written with a great deal of affection, and Sin and Callie are what make Born in Sin a recommended read. If you like Scottish historical romance, you’re in for a real treat.

--Cathy Sova

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