His Lady Bride

One Wicked Night

His Stolen Bride by Shelley Bradley
(Zebra, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-6732-1
Drake Thornton MacDougall is a man who goes to great lengths to seek revenge in Bradleyís second entry in her Brothers In Arms trilogy. Accused of murdering his own father, Drake wants nothing more than to make the true guilty party, his half-brother, pay for his crimes. Unfortunately, Murdoch is quite successful at convincing their fellow clansmen that Drake is the culprit, and even locks him up in the Dunollie Castle dungeons. It is only after his friends and fellow warriors, Aric and Kieran, rescue him that Drake comes up with a surefire plan.

According to Lochlan MacDougallís will, Murdoch must marry Averyl Campbell prior to her 18th birthday and end the feud between the clans or he loses all. With her birthday fast approaching, Averyl finds herself at Dunollie desperately hoping that Murdoch will find her acceptable enough, because her family keep, lands, and people are in desperate need of funds. However, before Murdoch can announce their impending marriage, Drake Thornton kidnaps her and carts her off to an isolated Scottish island. His plan is too keep her away from Murdoch until after her birthday, but itís a task that proves to be anything but simple. Averyl needs the marriage almost as much as Murdoch, and like almost everyone else in Scotland, believes Drakeís a murdering butcher.

Averyl has her own wounded past, having lost her mother at a young age. She also believes herself totally lacking in charm and beauty, while desperately wishing that some day she may come to know love with her intended husband. Drake naturally finds himself drawn to her innocence and spunk. However, his unhappy past has led to him to believe that love destroys lives, and he fights his growing attraction to Averyl, as she fights her growing feelings for her captor.

From the plot description, His Stolen Bride sounds like a standard Highland affair. It is anything but. Bradley crafts some really interesting characters, and while they exhibit some typical romance couple characteristics, they are complex enough to keep me turning the pages. Drake is seemingly the standard wounded hero, accused of murder, hungry for revenge, running from his past etc. However, beneath that he is a little boy lost, yearning for acceptance, desperate for love, but too scared to grab onto what is looking him right in the face.

Averyl is an innocent, unsure of herself as a woman, craving a marriage that will hopefully prove to be a love match, but willing to marry in order to secure a solid future for her people. She also is headstrong enough to try to escape her captor, and doesn't fall into his embrace with ease. Aside from these noble attributes, she herself is a little girl lost, yearning for her fatherís approval, and still reeling from a tragedy that claimed her motherís life.

A nicely drawn romantic couple would be enough to sell almost any romance, but Bradley has struck upon a nice premise for her current trilogy - three warriors who love each other like brothers. Aric makes a brief appearance, but it is Kieranís wit and charm that make him the most memorable secondary character in Drakeís story. His comic relief provides several nice moments, especially when he finds himself observing the dynamic between Drake and Averyl.

His Stolen Bride is actually a December 2000 release, and Iím currently kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. Bradley has proven herself to this reader that she has what it takes, with her complex characters and nicely done Highland atmosphere. You can bet I wonít keep her books waiting so long in the future.

--Wendy Crutcher

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