Highland Treasure by Amanda Scott
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-5860-8
***
Set in the Highlands of Scotland, circa 1753, Highland Treasure is a pleasant, enjoyable tale of romance. Although I'm getting a bit tired of reading about Scottish heroines who have the Sight, I did appreciate the author's light, intelligent touch in this story. Ms. Scott knows a great deal about the period following the Battle of Culloden and she weaves many interesting historical tidbits into the story line.

Mary Maclaine is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She was born with a dubious gift: she has precognitive dreams about loved ones being in danger or dying. Unfortunately, her gift doesn't enable her to save her family from dying due to disease or war; nor does it help Mary save her beloved suitor, Ian Campbell, from being murdered by her cousin.

After Ian's death, Mary is miserable and all alone; she fears becoming a burden upon her Aunt. Preying on her vulnerability, Lord Ewan MacCrichton fills Mary's days of mourning for Ian with kindness and declarations of love. It is only after he secures her promise to marry him and has her ensconced in his home that he shows his true colors, threatening to beat her if she does not do what he wants. And what Ewan wants is a woman with the Sight: a woman who can find his family's lost treasure.

Mary refuses to marry Ewan; she tells him that her Sight doesn't allow her to find lost items. But Ewan doesn't believe her and he tells her she has no choice but to marry him, that their cohabitation will be enough to ensure a legal marriage. With the help of two small children from Ewan's household, Mary manages to escape. She takes the children with her and while they are on their way to Mary's family's home they encounter Black Duncan Campbell, Ian's older brother.

Although Duncan holds Mary at least partially responsible for his brother's murder, he offers her and the children his protection. Considering Duncan to be an unlikely champion, and because she blames him for Ian's death, Mary refuses his offer. But after Ewan almost manages to recapture her and the children in her own family's home, she realizes she needs Duncan's protection.

Mary and the children go to live with Duncan and his parents at Balcardane Castle. Duncan's father, the Earl of Balcardane, has invited the beautiful daughter of a friend, Lady Serena, to stay at the Castle. Serena wants Duncan and makes no secret of the fact that she intends to marry him. But Duncan dislikes this self-serving young woman; he begins to think that while he is protecting Mary from Ewan, she could return the favor by protecting him from Serena.

As pleased as I was with the author for not making Ian the focus of the conflict between Mary and Duncan, I have to admit I kept waiting for the specter of Ian's murder to rear its ugly head and come between them. Especially since, at least in the beginning of this story, they were placing a fair amount of the blame for Ian's death on each other's shoulders.

So it seems strange that Ian and Mary's relationship is relegated to a mere afterthought for the ending of this tale. Also, it seems strange that Mary, with her "gift," doesn't dream about Ian's murder before it happens.

As characters go, Mary and Duncan are very likeable: both have the ability to think rather than simply to react to what is going on around them and both have a sense of humor. Duncan has a fierce temper but whenever he looks into Mary's sliver eyes he finds serenity, and his rages quickly subside.

Mary finds Duncan to be dictatorial: free with advice for everyone else, yet unable to accept the opinions of others. A strong woman, Mary has few problems handling the quick-tempered but very protective Duncan. She proves her ability to hold her own with Duncan in a scene I refer to as the "Wheelbarrow Wager," which really defines these two characters and their relationship. Romance readers will enjoy that scene; I know I will always remember it with a smile.

--Judith Flavell


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