My Immortal Highlander
by Hannah Howell and Lynsay Sands
(Kensington Books, $12.00, R) ISBN 0-7582-1292-5
*****
My Immortal Highlander brings to life the tale of the MacNaughton twins. Two men who can't withstand the sun, drink blood to regain their strength and just happen to purr. I have to tell you that after reading this one, I was ready to purr.

Our story starts with Howell's contribution: “The Hunt.” It begins with seer Kenna Brodie, hiding in a cave debating her future. After being deemed a witch by her uncle, she's been cast from the village she was meant to rule. The only way she can return? Bearing pieces of a MacNaughon, a rumored clan of half-man half-beasts with a thirst for blood. Imagine her surprise when the stranger who stumbles into her hideout reveals himself to be none other than Bothan MacNaughton. Despite her vow not to hunt down the man, she's suddenly face to face with him and revealing her "mission."

After a brief struggle, Bothan quickly realizes that Kenna isn't a murderer, but a victim and vows to help her. Instead of just bringing back pieces of a MacNaughton, he proposes that she bring back a whole one - alive and wedded. With her new husband at her side, she'll be able to regain her status as laird while Bothan will have access to those who pose a danger to his clan. Now they just have to convince her people he's not the bad guy, despite what her uncle has said.

Sands follows this up with “The Rescue” in which Calum MacNaughton sets out to rescue a very naked damsel in distress, but finds himself the one being rescued. It seems Sarra is to be the prize bride of a neighboring laird - whether she wants it or not. The only thing stopping the enemy is Sarra's father, whose health is fading fast. At a loss without his twin around, Calum sees an opportunity to save the day: after all, Sarra can't be married off to the enemy if she's already married to him, can she?

Both short stories rely on the old marriage of convenience trick, but do it well. The couples have great premarital chemistry and form friendships that are anything but forced. The short aspect of each story usually limits character and relationship development, but Howell and Sands breeze right past that aspect and give us funny, sexy, believable characters.

Both stories have remarkable depth to be so short. Kenna faces a tough decision with her uncle: for as long he's alive, she's in danger. Her reactions are incredibly realistic, if not always smart. She's not stupid enough to think it's a "forgive and forget" situation, but not callous enough to have the man immediately killed. It isn't a story that calls for a pretty ending - either way she'll lose something dear to her; but Howell handles the storyline well. In the end, the reader sympathizes with Kenna and admires her practicality and resourcefulness.

Sarra too, is a practical lady. She knows she can easily have the King handle her problem, but doesn't want to leave her father to do so. So, she holds him off the best she can - which makes for some amusing scenes once the enemy sets up camp outside the walls. Sarra plays dirty and somehow manages to keep her sense of humor.

Prior to this, I had no experience with Howell and was only familiar with Sands via the Argeneau series. Having devoured those, I already knew Sands was good for a laugh, but I was delighted to find that she handled the more serious stuff with her usual deft touch. As for Howell, I'll definitely be on the lookout for more, including the related two-for The Eternal Highlander. With seers and sexy cat-like vampiric men, sixteenth century Scotland has never been more appealing.

--Amanda Waters


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