Highland Destiny

Highland Hearts

Highland Knight

Highland Vow

Highland Champion by Hannah Howell
(Zebra, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 08217-7758-0
Even if you havenít followed the Highland saga written by Howell, Highland Champion stands well on its own and offers an entertaining romance that seems familiar, but has just enough twists to make it unique.

Liam Cameron is lucky to be alive. Beaten to a bloody pulp and left with a broken leg, he is nursed back to health by a lass named Keira Murray MacKail. Liam is a mercenary and wanderer. He is a ladiesí man, no doubt, but draws the line at seducing virgins and other menís wives. When one determined wife chases him down and swears undying love, he convinces Keira to help him get away, since it appears she and her husband are responsible for his beating.

Keira, not fully convinced of his innocence but unwilling to let him suffer again and ruin all her hard work at healing, does indeed help him. They decide to travel to Liamís cousinís keep. On the way, Liam convinces Keira to let him help her. Keira is the widow of a man killed when Rauf Mabray attacked his lands and forced those within to surrender. Rauf is a villain and tried to rape Keira. She escaped, barely and has been in hiding, recuperating from her wounds since then. She is determined to return and wrest the land back in order to protect the people because she made a vow to her husband to do so.

Keira and Liam are instantly attracted to one another. But they also realize there is much they donít know about each other. When forced to marry because of the months they spent together alone, neither is completely unhappy. Yet Keira has a secret she must keep regarding her husband and Liam is anything but a saint. They are pulled to each other and they soon enhance their relationship by actually talking and sharing. Liam enlists the help of his family and Keiraís brothers and the battle is on.

There are many things to like about this tale. Liam and Keira are brave, strong and realistic characters. They have their vulnerabilities, and yet they strive to overcome them. They work to find out about the other and seem to enjoy each otherís company, both in and out of bed. Their friends and relatives are engaging and add to the sense of family and camaraderie that exists within a well-run keep.

While there are familiar plot lines, Howell finds ways to twist them so that their resolution is often surprising. An example of this is the fact that Keira is a healer and has the power to take someone elseís pain into her own body to relieve theirs. While in many stories this mystical component often causes the conflict, in this case, it is accepted by an enlightened Liam and those around him who find out. That is a refreshing difference from many tales set in the medieval time frame.

The story is fast-paced and easy to pick up again. Liam is a strong hero who shows intelligence, humor and understanding with just the right mix of machismo. Keira too is intelligent. While she feels bound by her vows to her deceased husband, she also realizes quickly how important Liam is and why she needs to trust him with those secrets. She wants to be strong, but also realizes she cannot fight like the men. She actually shows much common sense throughout the story. Their love story is solid.

The only thing keeping this tale from keeper status is the fact that the plot is relatively predictable. It is engaging and yet it is all laid out for one to see. There isnít anything that would keep one coming back again and again.

Highland Champion is an engaging tale of the Scottish lands and I recommend it for its two main characters and delightful blend of romance, war and a few out-of-the-ordinary resolutions of seemingly familiar plot lines.

--Shirley Lyons

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