McAlistair’s Fortune
by Alissa Johnson
(Leisure, $6.99, PG)  ISBN 978-0843062512
***
Alissa Johnson offers up an amusing historical romance with McAlistair’s Fortune. Readers who have read other books in the Haldon Hall matchmaking series will likely enjoy this one very much.

Evie Cole is 26 years old and a spinster. She has a limp and a scar on her face from the childhood carriage accident that claimed her parents’ lives, and she is sure that her lot in life is to remain unmarried because of them. Evie is a master eavesdropper, and one night she overhears a conversation between her beloved aunt and a family friend. A plan is proposed that will ensure Evie marries: a threatening note will arrive at Haldon Hall, and shortly thereafter a young man will arrive to “protect” Evie. They’ll fall in love and marry. What could be simpler?

Evie has to remove herself from the keyhole before the conversation concludes, so she has no way of knowing that her aunt denounces it as idiotic. When a threatening message does arrive, Evie laughs it off, sure it’s part of the scheme. She even agrees to be removed from the house “for her safety” and travel to Norfolk under armed guard. One of the guards is the intriguing Mr. McAlistair, a hermit who lives on the estate. Evie even shared an impromptu kiss with him one day in the woods, but she knows little about him.

James McAlistair is indeed a hermit. A former government assassin, he has spent the past eight years in solitude on his friend’s estate. That hasn’t stopped him from watching Evie from afar, and falling in love with her. Now he is asked to escort the woman he secretly loves to safety in another part of the country. In the days to come, they’ll camp out, hide in barns, even share a room at an inn – and he can never let he know how he feels.

It takes Evie quite a while to believe that the danger is real – that her work with abused women must have set someone on her trail to do her harm. Meanwhile, she tries to break through the shell of James McAlistair and find out if her feelings toward him are returned.

This is basically a road romance. Evie and James aren’t the run-of-the-mill hero and heroine. Her disfigurement plays into the story and he really is a hermit. Evie is pretty irrepressible, and her cheerful, slightly mocking outlook on the whole situation is enjoyable. James is taciturn, and while the author does a pretty good job of conveying his longing for Evie, short shrift is given to his reasons for becoming a hermit. We’re told he is emotionally scarred from his past deeds, but eight years of living in the woods seems a bit extreme. One would think he’d be a bit of a psychological wreck, not a man ready to fall in love.

The story drags in the middle, as Evie and James are on the road and on the run. It felt like it took too long to get to the story’s climax, and I had to fight the urge to skip ahead. But the ending was engrossing, making it worth the slight effort to get there.

Fans of Ms. Johnson’s previous novels will be glad to see some familiar faces, and one more book is apparently planned for this series. McAlistair’s Fortune features a hero and heroine who are out of the ordinary; that plus the engaging romance at its core make it a worthwhile read.   

--Cathy Sova


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