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Highland Avenger
by Hannah Howell
(Zebra, $7.99, G) ISBN 978-1-4201-1879-7
***
Highland Avenger is the next installment in Hannah Howellís Murray series, and itís a fine addition to the collection.

Arianna Murray Lucette is a tragic heroine until she meets her unlikely savior in Sir Brian MacFingal on the worst day of her life.

When Arianna and Claude Lucette married, she couldnít figure out why he was so cold and mean to her, but tried to make the best of it. Claude did everything he could to put Arianna down and it worked, reducing her from a spirited woman to a shadow of her former self. Arianna was quite shocked to eventually find out that her husband had a mistress, but not nearly so shocked as she was to find out that she was it. Claude had hidden his first marriage from everyone, including his disapproving family, even though his wife Marie Anne bore him two sons, Michel and Adelar.

Ariannaís good family connection and her dowry were the reasons that Claude married her. Close upon the heels of these discoveries, Arianna discovers a serious feud in the Lucette clan brewing, Claudeís brother Amiel will stop at nothing for to satisfy his own greed and lust for power. When Claude and Marie Anne are found murdered, Arianna runs for her family home by boat with the boys. Her only thought is to save the boys from their fatherís fate. She almost fails as Amielís crew intentionally sets out to ram the ship she and the boys are taking on their journey. Arianna sees the boat coming, and she, Michel and Adelar jump overboard to avoid the impact.

Sir Brian MacFingalís crew member spots Arianna washed up on the shore and he and his crew head over to investigate. Ariannaís alive but hurt, and Adelar and Michel come out of hiding when they see that Brian means to help them. Arianna manages to explain the danger that follows them and who she is. When Brian hears her tale and discovers that he and Arianna have distant family marital ties, he commits to help her and the boys to safety by splitting them up with his men to ride to his familyís home for protection. He knows that they must be fast about it as Amiel has gathered forces to kill the three of them and whoever else might get in the way.

Brian and Arianna start a daring chase to lead Amielís men away from the group protecting the boys, and they ride hard and fast through demanding country. On their short breaks, they get to know each other better, both have sorrows and recent regrets that draw them together while their journey becomes much more dangerous for all involved.

Highland Avenger will please Howellís devoted fans, she tells this story in wonderful detail and her own true style. Arianna is a good heroine, well thought out, vulnerable from her recent disastrous sham of a marriage and battle weary from protecting her charges. Ariannaís spirit does lift and wane as the chase continues, which is to be expected, but her personality does tend to fall flat at the slow points.

Brianís a fine figure for a hero, dashing, courageous, and valiant. His ways are much more constant that Ariannaís throughout the tale. His stalwart feelings of inadequacy get in the way of his attraction for me. While I have experienced a similar storyline with other authors before, his vulnerabilities and self doubt gets in the way of the rest of his positive traits.

Brianís very large extended family really shows well in the background of the tale and enhances the story, as they reflect love and fun in every one of their scenes. A lot of the humor in this otherwise sometimes grim tale comes from their wit and dysfunction.

A note to other readers: this story has more violence that Iíve experienced in romance novels recently. While it has its place in this tale, it is a little extreme and one scene in particular was upsetting to read.

Highland Avenger has its highs and lows, Iím sure that Hannah Howellís devout fans will appreciate this addition to the Murray series, but it wasnít my favorite of her books as it was so unsteady.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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