The Secret Clan: Abducted Heiress
by Amanda Scott
(Warner, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-61026-7
Imagine a world in which sex truly is the panacea for fundamental conflicts of personality. Kubrick explored it in Eyes Wide Shut, and now it’s Amanda Scott’s turn in Abducted Heiress. Just as in the movie, the result is rather unconvincing.

As the heiress to vast, hidden wealth, Molly Gordon’s wardship is a prize to be transferred whenever royal favor shifts. Having learned not to grow too attached to her guardian du jour, she is still unpleasantly surprised to learn her newest keeper is to be Highlander Finlay Mackenzie, the handsome but authoritarian laird of Kintail. Nor does the development please her current guardian Donald the Grim, who planned to use her as a bargaining chip in his bid to seize the Isle of Sky.

Sir Fin, however, is delighted at the possibilities that Molly’s guardianship affords him, resolving to offer her in marriage to cement an advantageous alliance. But before doing so, he feels he must tame her willful and independent ways. Little does he anticipate that Molly, having been forced by her circumstances to develop a coldly rational self-possession, will stonewall his attempts with unyielding resolve - and resist with equal fervor their mounting mutual attraction.

When Donald the Grim vows to regain Molly by force, their war of wills becomes a grimly urgent one. Kintail cannot withstand an extended siege, and Molly’s conscience balks at the prospect of bloodshed on her behalf. The solution, however - marriage to Fin - is equally intolerable to a woman who longs to be loved for herself rather than her possessions.

As time ticks away, the twin plagues of war and political intrigue threaten to destroy Molly’s sole remaining chance for happiness - leaving her future in the hands of two blundering wee folk and a passion that even she may not be able to deny.

There are two distinct strengths to this novel, the first being Amanda Scott’s exemplary use of historical events and details. A thin veneer of “milords” does not a historical romance make, and anyone who believes so should consider this the foundational text for their education.

The second strength is something of a double-edged sword. Molly may be the most refreshingly rational woman to ever grace the pages of romance. And how truly refreshing it is for our heroine to skip the trembling-doe shock stage after shooting a man in self-defense, to acknowledge that she’s held herself deliberately aloof from the couple who have raised her for ten years, and to admit of her maid that she’s “in no mood to indulge the girl’s personal troubles.”

Still, as these instances mount, they begin to unsettle the reader, particularly when the annoying maid shows herself willing to abandon both home and betrothed for her unsympathetic mistress. Surely, it raises the expectation that Fin better be one heck of a hero to penetrate such a solid emotional defense.

Except Fin isn’t. He’s firmly intent on training Molly to obey his rules, and his interactions with her read like a list of cause and effect, in which Molly defies his edicts and then incurs his (admittedly mild) punishment. This plot device does little to foster intimacy between the pair, or speed along the first half of the plot, which otherwise focuses on Fin’s developing lust - one Molly has little trouble resisting.

However, sex fosters intimacy - and apparently a great deal more. There’s not much of it, but once it starts, Molly and Fin virtually cease to clash wills. Now, if the clashes had been rooted in an irrational willfulness on the part of either, this might work, but this is Molly. She is never unreasonable, nor is Fin particularly tyrannical. They just have different opinions about the way women should behave, which sex apparently - and unconvincingly - eradicates.

Molly does, however, finally bare her soul to Flynn, revealing that all she truly wants is a home. This revelation seems to be the philosophy of the novel’s conclusion. When Molly gets a home, and a decent husband along with it, all other difficulties simply melt away. Not a particularly romantic kind of fulfillment, but it somehow suits self-contained Molly. And there’s the rub: if it feels true to the character, should the reader complain?

--Margaret Shelley

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