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Distant Dreams by Jenny Lykins
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12368-4
****
Time travels engender a natural "what if it was me" response in the reader. You find yourself wondering what you would do if you were unceremoniously dumped two or three hundred years in the past. My "what if" involves petticoats. Why bother? If you're a woman of the nineties who suddenly finds herself living in the nineteenth century, why not bag the underwear? As long as I've been reading time travels, there have been heroines who constantly bemoan the ridiculously bulky, itchy, hot, restraining, etc. etc. undergarments they are forced to wear during their visits to the past. Well, if it was me…I'd just risk social censure and say, "Oops. I guess I forgot to put it on this morning," if anyone questioned my lack of proper foundation.

In Distant Dreams, I came across one of the few time travel heroines who shares my views on torturous underwear. That's one of the reasons I liked it so much. Shaelyn Sumner takes one look at a petticoat and refuses to wear it. It's bad enough that she has to drag yards of material around – she's constantly throwing her "train" over her arm to keep from tripping – but wear five pounds of underwear underneath that? No thanks, says Shaelyn.

The heroine of Distant Dreams is funny, tough, independent and not afraid to say what is on her mind. What's more, she does so with such a refreshing in-your-face candor that I couldn't help but say, "You go girl," every time she stood up to some 18th century man trying to "protect" her.

What's more, when Shaelyn discovers that she has somehow traveled some 170 years in the past, she doesn't calmly accept her fate…she freaks out. A journalist doing a recurring piece on the small coastal town in Maine, Shaelyn is talked into being a bride on a shipboard wedding recreation during one of the town's history days. She goes below decks to get dressed, finds an emerald ring, slips it on her finger, gets dizzy, bumps her head and then goes on deck for the "wedding". She "marries" a tall handsome specimen named Alec Hawthorne thinking that he's another reenactor. Oops. She soon finds out he's a real 1830s kind of guy, the town looks nothing like it's supposed to, that she really is married to Alec, and that he is spiriting her away to his home in a horse-drawn carriage. So, Shaelyn reacts like any normal 90s woman would – she screams her head off and jumps out of the moving carriage.

Being a smart cookie, it doesn't take Shaelyn long to figure out that the ring on her finger is responsible for her transportation back in time. Trouble is, no matter how hard she yanks, pushes and pulls, she can't get the darn thing off.

Meanwhile, Alec has realized that the woman he married isn't the woman he thought she was. You see, the marriages of Alec and his brother Charles had been arranged years before by his overbearing shipping magnate of a father. But Charles is in love with someone else. So since Alec's original fiancée has died, Alec thinks he's doing the magnanimous thing by meeting the ship and hastily marrying Charles' fiancée before the father can put a stop to it. When he sees Shaelyn with the emerald engagement ring, he naturally assumes that she is the right woman. Implausible? Of course. But hey, if you can't forgive a little implausibility in a time travel, then where can you?

Shaelyn doesn't dare tell anyone the truth of her origins, but she agrees to an annulment and promises to disappear…as soon as she can get the ring off her finger. In the meantime, she and Alec try to fight the feeling that has sparked between them since their very first meeting. Alec can't quite figure out why in heaven's name he is drawn to a woman who goes around barefoot, calls him "Bubba," and is constantly pointing a finger in his face. As for Shaelyn, she recognizes Alec as the man in the recurring dreams she has had since childhood, those dreams that cause her to awaken with tears streaming down her cheeks.

The chemistry between Shaelyn and Alec is strong, and author Jenny Lykins builds up some great sexual tension by constantly having the couple's attempts at intimacy interrupted. There is also a good deal of humor to the proceedings, which I found particularly enjoyable. Shaelyn develops a great ally in Alec's sister Molly, deals with jealousy in the form of Alec's first love Faith, and even becomes a participant in the burgeoning Underground Railroad. But though Shaelyn makes the best of her situation, she never completely abandons her own time and is forced to cope with her fears of never returning to her own time and the family she left behind.

While it offers nothing unique in terms of plot, characterization, time, or setting, Distant Dreams is still a very readable trip into the past. In Shaelyn, author Lykins has created yet another strong and funny, "stand on her own two feet" heroine who is certainly up to meeting the challenge of a lifetime. Sometimes, with a heroine that strong, the hero doesn't stand a chance. But Alec is as well drawn as Shaelyn, the two a perfect match, each with their own very real strengths and weaknesses.

And let's face it, underwear or no underwear, that's where the reader really identifies – with a character.

--Ann McGuire


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