Heaven Forbids

My Beloved

My Wicked Fantasy

A Promise of Love

My True Love by Karen Ranney
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-80591-X
Perhaps every dedicated romance reader dreams of writing her own novel. I know I do every now and then. But then I read the lyrical prose that characterizes the work of authors like Karen Ranney and realize that I had better stick to writing reviews. There are passages in this book that are so lovely and so evocative that I can almost feel the spring breezes and hear the birds sing. Of course, there is also a wonderful romance between two people who are brought together by mysterious forces and who find their true soul mate.

Ranney returns to the Castle of Langlinais, the site of her excellent last book, My Beloved. Four hundred years have passed since Sebastian and Juliana miraculously found their happily ever after. Their descendant, Stephen, Earl of Langlinais has come home from the wars raging in England in 1644 to bury his dead and to recover from a serious wound.

Stephen is sick of fighting and dismayed that the king whom he supports out of duty and honor listens to synchophants and courtiers whose bad advice has made a bad situation worse. As he waits for the doctor to come to treat his suppurating wound, he sees three mounted figures fleeing from Parliamentary soldiers. Stephen drives off the pursuers and thus meets Anne Sinclair, her companion Hannah, and her guard Ian.

Stephen may have just met Anne, but she has known him for fifteen years, ever since she first dreamed of him as a child of eight. In her dreams, she has seen him grow from a young boy mourning his mother, to a youth at odds with his harsh father, to a young man burdened with the duties of his rank. Anne has come to England from her home in Scotland to find the man of her dreams, so that she can discover if he shares the connection she feels so deeply.

From their first meeting, Stephen finds this tall, lovely, self-possessed woman special. That he can talk to her and admit his fears and dreams, that they share a fascination with the now ruined castle, that she responds so openly yet innocently to his first embrace -- all this is so unique and so unexpected and so right. Yet it must also be so fleeting, because Stephen and his men must return to the war. Duty and honor demand it.

Anne is a strong and attractive heroine. As the only child and heiress of the Laird of Dunniwerth, she too knows about duty. But unlike tephen, she has also known love -- from her father, from her mother and from Hannah, the wise woman from whom she sought advice about her dreams. She understands that the “real” Stephen is the man she is fated to love, but she fears that their time together will be all too brief and she is determined that it will be memorable.

Stephen is a fine hero. He has known little love in his life, and he is attracted to Anne’s warmth like a moth to a flame. But she is a young woman under his protection. He must act honorably in his dealings with her. Yet he cannot stay away from her. And when danger threatens, he must do what is best for his people, even if he must sacrifice himself.

Ranney sets her love story against the background of an England and a Scotland enmeshed in civil war. She provides just enough of the political and military situation to give the book a real feel of the time and the place. This was a time when families and friends were divided, when death and destruction became commonplace, when good men like Stephen believed they must support a bad king and other good men like Anne’s father and Stephen’s friend Richard made a different choice. Ranney captures the ambiguity of the situation very well.

Ranney also interweaves the tale of Sebastian and Juliana into her story, as Anne and Stephen discover the codex in which Juliana told of the miracle that gave Sebastian back his life. I thought this was nicely done. Those who have not read My Beloved will find this part of the book enjoyable. Those who have will appreciate revisiting these two wonderful characters.

There is also a very nice secondary romance between Hannah and the doctor who treats her for injuries she sustained while fleeing from the soldiers. The war of wills and words between these two adds a nice leaven of humor to the book.

It takes a skilled author to carry off the mystical elements which play such a large role in My True Love. I believe that Ranney has pulled it off very well. Anne and Stephen are fated to love. Whatever the reasons, they are each other’s destiny. I certainly enjoyed watching them find each other against all the odds. I think you will too.

--Jean Mason

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