Scottish Brides by Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn & Karen Ranney
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80451-4
This anthology features four stories of the Scotland of history and legend. Although author Christina Dodd gets the most prominent billing on the cover, the other three authors’ contributions deserve equal -- if not greater -- recognition.

The lead-off story by Christina Dodd is perhaps the weakest of the four works. In “Under the Kilt” Hadden Fairchild (the brother of the heroine in the author’s A Well Pleasured Lady) is an Englishman who is researching and writing about Scottish traditions. Two months earlier (the story is set in 1805) he had spent time with Andra MacNachtan, but she had failed to inform him of the legendary MacNachtan kilt that covers the bride and groom at their wedding. Hadden and Andra had spent a night of passion, but she refused his marriage proposal and sent him away the next morning. Now Hadden is back to learn about the kilt but primarily to convince Andra to wed him. Andra’s people lock them in a tower room, and they spend another night of passion.

That’s it. Period. Hadden and Andra have a really hot time (this is the most explicit story in the anthology), but there is not much plot or character development to warm readers.

In “Rose in Bloom” by Stephanie Laurens, Duncan Macintyre, third earl of Strathyre, and Rose Mackenzie-Craddock have been squabbling with each other since childhood (although I have reservations about the likelihood of some of the specific incidents considering the eight years’ difference in their ages). Now it is 1826, and they haven’t seen each other for many years. Duncan’s mother has invited Rose for Midsummer, and they have both invited potential mates to the Hunt’s Ball. It is apparent to readers long before it is to Rose and Duncan who’s meant for whom, but their gradual realization is satisfying and believable.

This is possibly the best story in the anthology. It’s a mark of Ms. Laurens’s talent that she can pack enough plot and character development for a full-length book into a shorter-length work.

Julia Quinn’s “Gretna Green” is the most amusing story in the book. Margaret Pennypacker has traveled to Scotland to prevent her younger brother from making a disastrous marriage. Her trip itself is disastrous, and she is rescued from an attack by Angus Greene just in the nick of time. Angus has come to Gretna Green to stop his sister who intends to go to London for a Season. The two of them end up sharing a room and a haggis at an inn where Angus informs the innkeeper that they are married and that Margaret is expecting.

Angus is a thoroughly satisfactory hero -- bold, principled, funny. Margaret is a loving woman, devoted to her family (although she does seem to have hied herself off to Scotland with a definite lack of preparation) who is a good match for him. Readers will find little depth to their story, but it’s sure to please.

“The Glenlyon Bride” by Karen Ranney tells a story (set in 1772) of an arranged marriage, a case of mistaken identity, and a legend fulfilled. Lachlan Sinclair is being forced to marry Harriet, an Englishwoman, for her dowry that is needed to save his clan and to put an end to cattle raiding. A prophet has foretold that the Glenlyon Bride will save the clan. Lachlan accepts that he must marry but insists that he will see his bride before committing himself. The lovely young woman he sees, however, is Janet, a poor relation who is Harriet’s long-suffering companion. Over the course of several moonlit nights, they will fall in love.

The character of the nasty Harriet darkens what is otherwise a sweet love story lightened with moments of humor. I confess that I developed a soft spot for Jeremy, Harriet’s brother.

“Ladies, I have found, Janet, do not like sweet. They prefer dashing or exciting, but certainly not sweet.”

I hope that Ms. Ranney will consider giving the sweet Jeremy his own sweet love.

Most anthologies seem to offer stories of varying quality. Scottish Brides is unusual in that all of the stories are of fairly similar quality. None is really dreadful, but there’s also not one that is so terrific that I would advise anyone to rush right out to buy the book on the basis of it alone. I am sure, however, that most readers will find at least one story to suit their tastes.

--Lesley Dunlap

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