Charming the Highlander
by Janet Chapman
(Pocket Books, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-7434-5306-9
Maybe it’s Sean Connery. Maybe it’s Mel Gibson. Maybe it’s those swaying kilts and bare legs. Whatever it is, there’s something about brawny Scottish warriors that authors simply cannot resist zipping characters through time so that strong, contemporary heroines can have their (beef)cake and eat it too! Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series featuring the inimitable Jamie Fraser is probably the best known, but other authors such as Linda Howard (in Son of the Morning) and Lynn Kurland (in a Dance Through Time) have used the same format. Put a modern-day heroine near a Scottish castle and she’ll inevitably be pitched into the arms of some strapping hunk with a Scottish burr.

Well, there are worse fates.

In Charming the Highlander, debut author Janet Chapman revisits this classic plot bringing her twelfth century hero forward in time so he’ll meet his destiny with a twenty-first century lass.

Four members of MacKeage clan, led by the laird Greylen, are in battle with several of their arch-enemies, the MacBains. Pendaar, a wizard, knows that in order for his heir to be born Grey must mate with a woman not yet born. His charm, however, goes somewhat awry when not only Grey but all the fighting men - as well as their horses - are swept up in a lightning storm and transported eight hundred years into the future.

Grace Sutter’s younger sister Mary is dying. Mary was in an automobile accident then delivered a baby boy prematurely. Mary had refused to disclose the identity of the baby’s father but does so on her deathbed. The man is Michael MacBain. She had fled when he had told her he had been born in 1171 but had intended to return to marry him. Grace promises Mary she will take the baby to Michael. The baby will remain unnamed; it’s his father’s right to name him. Mary wants her ashes distributed around TarStone Mountain on the Summer Solstice.

Four weeks later Grace and Baby are prepared to fly to rural northwestern Maine. Grace, a Ph.D. physicist and mathematician, is taking leave from her job with a company involved in space and satellite technology to return to her family home in Pine Creek.

The final leg of her journey is a flight from Bangor, Maine, to Pine Creek. Grace and the only other passenger, Greylen MacKeage, worry that the wintry conditions are too treacherous for the small plane, but the pilot insists he’s experienced and can handle it. Grey learns that Grace is his neighbor Mary’s sister. Since being transported in time four years earlier, he and his men have adjusted to modern life, moved to Maine, and are establishing a ski resort. He assumes that Grace is Baby’s mother; in spite of this misapprehension, he experiences an immediate attraction to her.

Grace’s and Grey’s fears about the flight are realized. The plane crash lands on the mountain above Pine Creek. It’s only due to Grey’s actions that Grace and Baby survive. The long trek down the mountain proves too much for Grace. Grey leaves her in a snow cave and takes Baby the rest of the way to a cabin near the ski resort that he and the other MacKeage’s own outside Pine Creek. Rescue comes almost too late; Grace is found nearly frozen, clinging to the Oreo cookie tin that holds Mary’s ashes. Grey saves her by warming her against his naked body. It’s then that she meets the other MacKeage’s and Father Daar. It is Father Daar, now a priest albeit with some unusual powers, who has deliberately and carefully managed their situation over the past four years.

Grey, who feels a powerful connection to Grace, wants her to stay at the resort, but Grace insists she has to take Baby to her family home. Grey does not leave her alone for long. Grace’s life is in too much turmoil to allow for romance, but she cannot deny her growing desire for the man who rescued her.

Michael MacBain has only recently moved to Pine Creek. Grace refuses to turn Baby over to him until she’s had time to assess his sanity. Her growing attachment to Baby only enhances her reluctance even though she recognizes Michael’s profound grief upon learning of Mary’s death. Michael confirms what Mary had told her further reinforcing her doubts of his sanity. Could he have been struck by lightning or injured in some other way prompting his delusion? It is in conversation with the MacKeages that she begins to suspect that Michael may not be the only one who’s from eight hundred years in the past.

Severe winter weather and modern-day troubles will test Grace, Grey, Michael, and the MacKeages.

Charming the Highlander is one of those books that can be synopsized in a few words - they meet, they’re in a plane crash, they fall in love - or in a few paragraphs as I’ve done above - but there’s so much going on that neither does it justice. I didn’t mention the cause of the intense rivalry between Grey and Michael or what Pendaar/Father Daar knows of Grey’s and Grace’s child and his heir or why Grace is still a virgin at age thirty or the supernatural overtones relating to Mary or anything about Grace’s unusual siblings or much at all about Grace’s and Grey’s characters or....

But depth is what distinguishes a good book from the not-so-good, and Charming the Highlander is a book that works on several levels. My greatest regret is that the book isn’t longer. There are number of places where the narrative seems too cursory; for example, the time travelers’ adjustment to modern life is merely glossed over in a few paragraphs.

Readers will want to check out Charming the Highlander for several reasons: the engrossing plot, the engaging characters, the plausible conflict. There’s also the fact that this book is populated with a sizeable collection of sexy men, and the first sequel will appear in the month of May. Janet Chapman is definitely an author to watch.

--Lesley Dunlap

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