Once Upon a Kiss by Claire Cross (aka Claire Delacroix)
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12300-5
***
Claire Cross deftly combines time travel with the well-known Sleeping Beauty fairy tale to ask an intriguing question: what would happen if the fabled heroine were awoken by a handsome prince...a thousand years later? If you are partial to sweet, fanciful romances, this one will not disappoint.

Princess and priestess Aurelia succumbs to a terrible prophecy as her Scottish castle is being attacked by the evil Bard in the year 800 A.D. She pricks her finger on an arrow while trying to defend her home and falls into a deep sleep. The last thing she sees is her beloved father, heartbroken that the curse laid upon his daughter at birth has come true.

More than a millenium later, in modern day Scotland, Baird Beauforte is exploring the grounds of his newest luxury hotel, when he finds a hidden staircase leading to the still sleeping Aurelia. Compelled by a force he doesn't understand, Baird kisses and awakens the princess.

But, unlike the fairy tale, Aurelia does not leap gratefully into his arms. When she hears his name, Aurelia is convinced that the man who woke her is none other than the despicable Bard, and that he has captured her castle and killed or imprisoned her people. She assumes that Baird's friend Julian is a priest and that Marissa, the predatory interior decorator who has designs on Baird, is his whore. Confused but determined, Aurelia is willing to do anything to save her father, including playing dumb and seducing Baird.

Which is not a major problem for our hero. Baird has grown up in a series of foster homes and has learned to survive independently. He can't explain the strong desire he has for Aurelia, despite the fact that she appears to be one slice short of a loaf in the brains and sanity departments. Although he figures out quickly that the dumb act is only a ruse, he can't understand why Aurelia keeps insisting she is a Pictish princess and demanding to know where her father is.

In a slightly unusual twist for a time-travel romance, Aurelia doesn't realize she has reached the future until almost three-quarters of the way through the novel. She views modern conveniences such as running water and hotel keys as manifestations of Julian the "priest's" magic. At times her failure to grasp the truth sooner stretched my credibility level. And I could buy the fact that she had a magical gift that enabled her to understand modern English, but how could she read it as well? It's funny how a reader's "willing suspension of disbelief" can be stretched so far in a fantasy romance...but no farther.

The author cleverly works in a reincarnation theme, which helps Baird come to terms with the rootless childhood of his current lifetime. Various characters turn out to be reincarnated versions of Aurelia's contemporaries, leading to a nifty plot twist and a few surprises.

Cross writes with a nice light touch, with plenty of humorous episodes as the thoroughly modern, independent Baird confronts an ancient, fey princess (who has a very hearty appetite after sleeping for a thousand years). This is one of those romances where you have to believe from the start that the characters are destined for each other, because if you stop to analyze their actual interactions you wonder if they truly have enough in common to live happily ever after. Personally, I like my romances to have a little more substance, but I found Once Upon a Kiss to be a silly but sweet interlude.

--Susan Scribner


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