The Darkest Knight by Gayle Callen
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80493-X
The Darkest Knight opens in an unlikely place for a romance – a rundown monastery. When Lady Katherine Berkeley is kidnapped from her home, she fears she'll never live to escape. Katherine has evidence of a plot against King Richard by the followers of Henry Tudor, and she is determined to reach Nottingham and warn the king. Evidently someone else knows that she's found out, thus her kidnapping.

Help comes unexpectedly in the form of Brother Reynold, a novice who witnessed Katherine's rough arrival. Reynold is an ex-knight trying to atone for a past sin by devoting his life to God, but his chivalric training kicks into high gear when he sees Katherine being manhandled. Reynold releases Katherine and helps her to escape, hiding her in a cave of sorts. He would like to return her to her father's home, but Katherine insists on going to Nottingham, home of her fiancé, who will surely send a message to King Richard..

Dressed as poor travelers, Reynold and Katherine journey south. Along the way, they try hard to keep their hands off each other but don't succeed. This courageous lady charms Reynold, and Katherine is overwhelmed by his size and power. Betrothed to a man she hasn't seen in five years, Katherine is half-convinced that no man could truly want her. Reynold soon changes her mind. But what will happen when they arrive at her fiancé's home?

Unfortunately, the ensuing events are tied together by a monstrous coincidence. So big, in fact, that I almost put the book down in disgust. But forgive a new author this flaw, because the rest of the story is quite acceptable and entertaining. And to her credit, Ms. Callen does avoid some of the plot cliches that would have been all-too-easy to include. There are no unexpected instant pregnancies, for example. Kudos for that.

The characters fare better. Katherine, is hampered by a weak arm and a habit of tripping over her skirts (I kept wondering why she didn't simply cut them off) but she acts with intelligence, for the most part. Reynold is a good guy, smart and honorable. I wanted him to disclose his "sin" and quit anguishing over it, though. There were a few too many dark references to "the evil he'd committed" and such.

Finally, a word about the cover. It's pure beefcake, sort of a "medieval motorcycle leathers" look. Readers will either love it or think it's cheesy in the extreme. Afraid I fall into the latter category.

Gayle Callen's first romance shows promising style and an eye for an unusual plot. If you like medieval romance, The Darkest Knight is going to entertain you.

--Cathy Sova

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