Betrayed by Bertrice Small
(Fawcett, $10.00, R) ISBN 0-449-00181-4
****
Bertrice Small fans, you have cause to celebrate. Ms. Small is back in fine form, providing readers of sensual historicals with an engrossing, erotic story that stands alone. Betrayed is of the style that garnered her legions of fans in the 1970s and 80s. And when she's at the top of her form, nobody does it quite like Bertrice Small.

The year is 1422. Fifteen-year-old Fiona Hay has just been caught stealing cattle by their rightful owner, Angus Gordon. Cattle reivers are routinely put to death, but Fiona has a better option to offer Angus. She'll become his mistress if he'll let her keep the cattle so her young sisters will have some sort of dowry. Angus is aware of the struggle this young lady has had to keep her family together after the death of her father. He finds himself accepting her offer, much to the bemusement of his clansmen.

Fiona and Angus quickly find out that there's more than sexual attraction between them. But before they can admit their love for one another, King James steps in with a manipulative plan to blackmail Fiona into acting as a spy, thereby forwarding his attempts to unify Scotland. He arranges her kidnapping by Colin MacDonald, a Highland chieftain. And to ensure that Fiona won't run back to Angus at the first opportunity, the king fabricates a lie guaranteed to turn her against Angus.

Thus Fiona embarks on her second love affair, with a man who comes to love her desperately. Whether Fiona will ever recover from Angus' supposed faithlessness and learn to love Colin in return is the central conflict of the book.

Bertrice Small's books aren't for everyone, but the woman didn't become a bestselling author without providing the kind of hot historical that many readers like. Betrayed, in that niche, is a fine book. And even better, readers won't need to have read any of Ms. Small's other books in order to connect with this one. There are no pages of long introductions to bring in former characters from other stories.

Fiona is portrayed as a spunky, stubborn sexpot. She's intelligent, and her loyalty to her family is understandable, as is her rage and humiliation at Angus' betrayal. Angus is more of the typical "I know I love her but I'll be damned it I'll tell her" kind of hero, with the result that it loses him what he values most. A nice bit of rough justice there. But the character I felt most for was Colin, doomed to love a woman who seemingly will never love him back. The secondary characters add lots of color, and the historical details seem to be clear and accurate.

My only quibble was that the author had to depend on a couple of conveniences to keep the story going. Whether Fiona will ever find out about The Big Lie is central to the book, and there are several places where it's almost resolved, but something interferes. That kind of plot machination wears thin very quickly.

If you've been a Bertrice Small fan but her seemingly endless Skye O'Malley series was beginning to wear thin for you, you're in luck. Betrayed will take you back to a fresh beginning. Let's hope Ms. Small leaves Fiona right where she ends up and doesn't write six or seven Fiona Hay books. This was just enough of a good thing.

--Cathy Sova


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