Highland Champion

Highland Destiny

Highland Hearts

Highland Knight

Highland Vow

Highland Wolf

My Immortal Highlander

 
Highland Sinner
by Hannah Howell
(Zebra Books, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-0-8217-8001-5
*****
Highland Sinner is wonderful romance wrapped up in an captivating hunt for a bloodthirsty killer, and I loved every page.

Sir Tormand Murray is a big, strong rogue. He tries to be a gentleman, is kind to children, and loves his family but mostly lets his passions rule him. He has bedded numerous women, and muses that his standards have recently dropped. As long as a girl is willing, he is too. Then, at the opening of the tale, Tormand wakes up with a bump on the head and his former lover lying slaughtered next to him. He slips away to call his old friend, Simon Innes, the kingís man who investigates local crimes. Simon doesnít believe that Tormand is guilty of this atrocious crime, and his strong belief in justice urges him to find the killer as soon as possible.

Morainn Ross, a banished young woman who lives just outside of town, is rumored to be a witch who has visions, and is distrusted by most of the community. Morainn is a hardworking, lonely woman who has occasional visions of the possible future.

She has been dreaming of a man with mismatched eyes who has blood at his feet. She has woken up screaming at the terrifying death threats she sees in these dreams. Her young adopted son, Walin, an orphan who was dropped on her doorstep four years earlier, tries to comfort her. Morainn tries to shield Walin from her fear of the possible future she is seeing in her visions.

One day, while Morainn is in town to buy barrels, she stumbles upon the scene of another brutal murder; another of Tormandís former lovers has been butchered. Simon and Tormand show up to investigate the scene, and Morainn immediately recognizes him as the man from her visions. The irate crowd that has gathered to see the grisly scene quickly catches sight of the Ross witch and turns on her, believing she is at the death scene to steal the soul of the deceased woman. Tormand and Simon spirit her away before the crowd can hurt her.

The murders continue and Simon, Tormand and a few members of Tormandís family visit Morainn out of desperation to see if she can help them find the killer. As the townspeople become more terrified of the murderers running free, they begin to whisper that Tormand must be the killer. They are growing angry that the Ross witch is coming to his aid. The men bring Morainn and Walin back to Tormandís family home for protection.

As the hunt for the killer gains ground, Morainn and Tormand feel more strongly pulled to one another. Tormand fights his desire as he hopes to prove to himself that he isnít a rutting fool as his friends and family have decreed. He has become much more introspective since having to make a list of his former lovers, who could be possible victims. As Morainn points out, the list is so long that he will require the kingís army to protect that many women.

Still, Morainn longs for Tormand. As for Tormand, he is fairly certain that he feels something special for Morainn and hopes that after this mess, he will be able to sort it out. Unfortunately, until their lives are no longer at risk, he doesnít have time to consider his future.

I loved Highland Sinner for two reasons - the romance is honest and passionate; and the crime spree is scary, tightly woven and addictive. Tormand is the perfect trying-to-be-reformed rogue. The fact that is trying to reinvent himself is both endearing and funny. His long, honest look at himself is a prickly study in self-mastery. Tormand is also very strong, passionate and loving. He is appealing enough to Morainn (and to the reader!) to make him a great hero.

Morainn is an outstanding leading lady. She survived her motherís death and their banishment from town. She has made it through the long years alone, healing the people who come to her and making mead to sell for enough money to support herself. She took Walin in, for someone to love and because she didnít have the heart to turn him away.

Morainn has been desperate for a strong protector, a loving touch and a family of her own. If only the man sheís falling for didnít have a string of murdered lovers preceding himÖ

Tormandís bitter honesty about his past and Morainnís need for protection and love make their romance honest and real at a base level. Itís easy to find something in their courtship to relate to. The murdererís story is surprisingly twisted, suspenseful and mixed up with a big dose of terror. I was scared of what would happen next, but excited to find out what it would be. Highland Sinner is a definite must read, whether you like the old-fashioned tracking of the murders, or the seemingly ill-fated, tempestuous love story. Hooray for Hannah Howell - Highland Sinner is two fantastic stories woven into one tale.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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