Stealing Sophie
To Wed a Highland Bride

 
The Highland Groom by Sarah Gabriel
(Avon Books, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-123497-2
***
In The Highland Groom, Fiona MacCarran is a adventurous young woman who accepts a teaching post in a remote area in the Highlands of Scotland.† Her grandmotherís will has requested that she marry a wealthy Highlander or her siblings inheritance will go to their crooked, slightly wicked cousin Eldin.† Fiona is more interested in teaching the children and exploring the glen for fossils than she is in meeting a groom. Just after her arrival in Glen Kinloch, she is out exploring the hills, looking for fossils, and she meets† Dougal MacGregor.†

Dougal is the poor laird of the small glen, living with his three uncles and his orphaned niece Lucy.† He has continued the family tradition of making Highland whisky and smuggling it across the land, for a good price, to keep his people taken care of. Dougal carries a lot of family responsibility, caring for his dependant family members and also carrying on the tradition of brewing a special fairy whisky whose secret was passed to him from his father.

Dougalís first instinct upon meeting Fiona is to get her out of his glen as quickly as possible.† The bright, carefree schoolteacher may stumble upon the villageís illicit whisky smuggling and get them into serious trouble with the law.† He is also powerfully attracted to the lady, and he carries too many burdens to add to them by falling for a Lowland girl who has no idea what sheís getting into.

Unfortunately, the children need teaching and the schoolhouse is on Dougalís estate.† As Fiona and Dougal work together to help the people of Glen Kinloch, they stop fighting their attraction and try to find a way that they can have a future together.† But their plans may be foiled by Dougalís interfering uncles, Fionaís grandmotherís will, the whisky smuggling, a fire in the glen, the seemingly underhanded local authorities, and an unexpected villain.

Sarah Gabrielís descriptions of the scenery bring the Highland setting to life.† The village characters, from the kirk minister to the children, are well written, and add humor and richness to the tale.† Dougal is a strong leader, heavily burdened by life, yet not the brooding sort.† He has a boyish charm and knows his own mind.† Dougal is a refreshing change from the oft-tormented, confused hero.

Fiona is a little too lightweight for my taste.† She comes off as a bit simpleminded as she collects fossils in the glen alone, in a strange place and - gasp - finds herself in danger. When she hears rumors, and then comes across whisky smuggling in the glen, she treats it jokingly.† When I think of a straight-laced woman coming to work in a foreign place and stumbling across illegal activity, I donít think it would be usual for her to laugh it off.† Especially considering her position as a caregiver of the youth in the area.

Overall, The Highland Groom is a light, sweet read.† The romance is treated fairly casually and the bulk of the story is reserved for the concerns of Glen Kinloch and its residents.† While the charming background is satisfactory, the romance and the relationship between Dougal and Fiona is merely adequate.†

--Amy Wroblewsky


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