Blackheart by Tamara Leigh
(Leisure, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-4855-8
****
Lord Bernart Kinthrope is desperate to have an heir; unfortunately he is physically unable to conceive one of his own. He decides to send his wife Julianna to the bed of Gabriel de Vere, the man who rendered him sterile. By doing this, Bernart will not only gain an heir, but exact revenge on Gabriel by stealing his child. Julianna, who shares her husband's enmity for Gabriel, refuses to comply. It is only when Bernart threatens the safety of Julianna's sister Alaiz that she agrees to the scheme.

Gabriel is still bitter about his mother's deathbed confession seven years ago. Based on this confession, Gabriel's paternity is suspect and as such his father disinherits him. This event leads not only to Gabriel's general distrust of women, but also a strong feeling about creating children. When he discovers Bernart's plot, he kidnaps Julianna, determined to keep his own child. As the unborn child grows, so do the feelings between Julianna and Gabriel.

Admittedly, having a woman give up her virginity to a man she dislikes simply to beget an heir wasn't the most appealing start to a romance novel, but through good writing, Leigh manages to make it less disconcerting. She gives the reader an insight into Julianna and Gabriel by including a tender moment from their youth. Though the meeting is non-sexual, it provides a basis for the two characters' eventual feelings for one another.

Another example of Leigh's writing skill is her portrayal of Bernart, who despite his distasteful personality somehow garners a bit of sympathy from the reader. Though his activities are abhorrent, Bernart is not just pure evil. He has suffered a dramatic loss for a man, and his plan is the only way he can get even a part of his manhood back. It certainly is no excuse for his behavior, but it does act as an explanation making the situation more believable.

Though Julianna is a strong heroine, one wishes she'd have told Gabriel the truth sooner. Her hesitation and constant waffling becomes tedious, especially when she has shown earlier that she can be very forthcoming and decisive. Her fear for Alaiz's safety is a good reason for her silence, but when it becomes apparent that it is the only thing keeping her and Gabriel apart, I wanted her to just tell him already.

In general the men in this book don't seem very find of women. The repeated use of the word whore to describe any woman from the heroine to a serving wench was off-putting. Gabriel comes from a long line of heroes turned woman hater by one bad woman. When his brother Blase chastises Gabriel for putting his mother's sins on all women however, the reader does see a positive change in attitude.

The subplot involving Alaiz is interesting. Alaiz, who suffered brain damage after a fall, is an engaging character and one the reader feels a real kinship for. The only problem is that we're left dangling at the end of the book. There is no conclusion as to what happened to Alaiz, leading me to believe she may turn up in a sequel.

Blackheart gets a mixed recommendation. It was a good read, a definite page turner that was difficult to put down. The premise, however, may be not be for everyone, and readers who don't like alpha men may want to take a pass.

--Anne Bulin


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