Fairytale by Maggie Shayne
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-78300-2
*****
Maggie Shayne has always been a favorite of the specialty romance readers. Now she has brought her considerable talents to her first single title release, Fairytale. In a near perfect blend of real-life with the imaginary, Ms. Shayne casts a spell that draws you in, like the fairy tales we all read as children. And, like when we were children, we didn't want the story to end when we closed the cover.

We are initially taken back in time where Adam Reid, as a young boy, discovers a magical place, complete with a beautiful fairy who reveals to him a beautiful woman that will be his destiny and possibly his destruction. However, when he comes home to tell his parents, his abusive father literally beats the story out of him, leaving Adam distrustful of his experience, although remnants continue to haunt him the rest of this life.

Fast-forward to present day, where Adam is now a professor at a small New England college. A painful childhood and betrayal by his wife have hardened the imaginative little boy into an embittered man. Trusting no one, he has sequestered himself in his hill-top home, close by the woods where he supposedly once visited the land of the fairies. Yet there must be some kernel of belief left in Adam, since his most prized possession is an artist's rendition of his childhood experience.

Enter Brigit Malone, proprietress of a successful campus flower shop. Brigit has lead a harsh life, mainly on the streets, and has worked hard to earn the respectability of her new life. Specters of her former life have returned, demanding she use her unusual gift of art forgery one last time. Now she needs to get close to Adam, and his painting, fast; the life of her friend and mentor are at stake. Adam's ad for a live-in housekeeper seems to be the answer to her prayers but Adam soon suspects she has other reasons for being there.

From their first meeting, there is a strong bond, both physically and emotionally between Brigit and Adam. Although neither are fully aware of their true connection, they cannot deny the mutual attraction that Ms. Shayne carefully builds. As they grow closer, Brigit becomes torn between her feelings for Adam and her fear for her friend. Adam begins to believe Brigit is truly "not of this world" and clues from an ancient Celtic manuscript only confirm his suspicions. However, Brigit's distress over her betrayal of Adam's trust keep her from realizing he's right. Brigit's character is so three-dimensional that it was easy to empathize with her pain and panic as her tormentor brutally plays on her fears and anxieties.

Although the sexual aspects take a back seat to the main plot, I wasn't really aware of it since the relationship between Adam and Brigit is kept pretty potent throughout the entire book. She focuses on developing their emotional relationship rather than their physical. More importantly, Ms. Shayne skillfully maintains a certain tautness until she brings her wonderful story to a well-thought out conclusion, leaving the reader questioning how it will turn out until the very end.

I did have one pet peeve that's sure to nag at other readers as well. Fairytale has a unusual step-back cover featuring an embossed spider web with a photograph of two lovers. However, the two people pictured are not Brigit and Adam. The girl shown is blonde and Brigit is described as having very dark hair. The clothing's right and the guy could be Adam, but somehow, the photo really seemed at odds with this fantasy. I guess I expected the cover to be something more mystical, which would be hard to capture on film. I'm sure Ms. Shayne had little input into the final cover decision. Word on the street is that she was pushing to make this story even more fantastical. Let's hope she's allowed increased artistic license with her sequel.

Aside from that small discrepancy, Maggie Shayne has once again been able weave her web of words to create a world between the whimsical and the mundane, making you actually believe in the existence of mythical beings.

--Susan Bontley


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