Til There Was You
by Elizabeth Ann Michaels
(Zebra $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5821-7
***
Til There Was You begins with an interesting premise. Leah is the ten-year-old daughter of the notoriously vicious Warren de Troyes, a man so evil he's been nicknamed The Savager. Leah has spent the first years of her life watching her mother be beaten to a pulp by her father for various imagined offenses. Finally, the mother can stand it no longer. She brings Leah to a convent in northern England, swears the nuns to secrecy in return for what little money she can give, and then dies.

The story picks up eleven years later. Leah is now on her way to Hawksgrave Keep, home of the fierce Gavin de Bec. Lord Gavin must have some redeeming qualities, because Leah is going to oversee the new almshouse being built for the poor of the area. Her skill as a healer and comfort-giver will make her valuable to Lord Gavin, she hopes, and she will find a safe home and not need to take holy vows or further burden the sisters.

Leah and her friend Mave arrive to find the village under attack. Gavin witnesses Leah's efforts to save the life of a small boy, and is impressed that so pretty a lady would willingly risk her life for an unknown urchin. When he discovers she is the new healer, he immediately installs her in the keep as an honored guest until the almshouse can be rebuilt.

Gavin and Leah make their way toward each other. She finds him attractive, though fearsome. Gavin wonders what has so frightened Leah and how she can be so innocent. And Leah takes great pains never to let him know she is the daughter of Warren de Troyes, believing that her father would destroy Gavin to get her back.

Leah was an interesting heroine. Her characterization works for the first two-thirds of the book, and her fumbling shyness was endearing because we know what has made her act this way. Gavin's struggle to reassure Leah while he fights his interest in her made him a worthy hero. And the aspect of the almshouse is one I hadn't seen in a romance for a long time. Serving the poor isn't the usual role given to young ladies in a medieval romance, and I enjoyed the novelty.

The last third of the book didn't work for me. Leah's actions toward Gavin are inexplicable in the face of his careful devotion to her. He's been continuously presented as a strong, caring warrior, one who is willing and perfectly able to defend his home and those who depend on him. Remember, Warren de Troyes never figures in the story. We're only told about him. Leah's desire to "protect" Gavin from her father made her seem weak, disloyal, and quite stupid in the face of Gavin's obvious competency. Her reasoning isn't explained in enough detail to make her actions plausible, which left me angry and frustrated. It kept the story going, but was too pat of a plot device to do justice to the rest of the book.

Til There Was You will no doubt find its way onto the keeper shelves of some medieval romance fans. I'm sorry I can't give it a wholehearted recommendation. Next time, I hope the author will write a heroine who has as much faith in her hero as the readers do.

--Cathy Sova


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