Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
by Maggie Shayne
(Berkley Sensation, $13.00, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20576-2
****
Maggie Shayne conjures up three delightful paranormal tales in this collection of short stories.

First up is “Everything She Does is Magick,” in which a trio of witches fight to strengthen their family's bloodline. Their foe? Neighbor Nathan McBride's libido! It seems their niece Aurora is destined to produce the greatest witch in their history, but only if she produces an heir with her virgin foe. The story follows their lives as small pugnacious children all the way up to their chance reunion as almost thirty-somethings. Aurora quickly realizes Nathan's virginity is no accident - he's not cursed, he's hexed!

Guilt-ridden and a bit curious, she sets out to right her aunts' wrongs, only to discover they're one step ahead of her yet again.

The second tale “Musketeer by Moonlight” finds Mary Catherine (or as she prefers, "M.C. Hammer") Hammersmith on the run from the mob. The skeptical holdout in a long line of witches, she inadvertently invokes a protection spell and conjures up a Halloween hunk. Musketeer Alexandre isn't quite sure who this strange lady is (or in fact what year it is), but he's always up for a bit of "rescue the damsel in distress". Now, if only this damsel realized she needed rescued, his job might be a bit easier. Now this hard-edged private eye must stay alive long enough to convince this Musketeer to lay down his sword for love -- and for her.

Shayne winds up the tale with “The Con and the Crusader,” in which con man Jack McCain finds himself falling into a wishing well and shuffled back into the past - and in prison! One minute he's being leaned on by the cops to rat out a criminal heavyweight; the next he's being taken to a nineteenth-century prison. Fate in the form of the lovely Emily intervenes. She's a widow raising her sister's two children and about to lose her farm unless she gets some help, soon. Thankfully a friend reminds her of a forgotten law, drawn up to lure men into the town. Miss Emily may choose any prisoner she likes as her husband for as long as she chooses. It's the ideal situation, she'll get a farm hand and he'll get his freedom until the well comes again and he can return home.

Any time an author has to pack a big story into less than a hundred pages, I get a bit squeamish. Usually the first thing to go is the progression of the relationship. Not so with Miss Shayne's stories. The reader is there with the characters every step of the way, whether it be Aurora and Nathan's first fight or Emily's apprehension over her convict husband. All three romances felt natural and not rushed at all, which is quite a feat since the whole book is only 278 pages. Shayne makes sure every page counts.

Obviously, every anthology has its high points and low points. I found “Everything She Does is Magick” to be my favorite of the three stories. Nathan's thwarted attempts at losing his virginity are snicker-inducing and Aurora's ability to read his mind is quite amusing. This tale was by far the funniest and my favorite, but I tend to enjoy romantic comedy, especially when it's well written.

For readers looking for a more involved love story, a bit more on the romantic side, the second story, “Musketeer by Moonlight” is sure to please. The humorous elements remain, but Al is a true romantic and this colors the whole story. It's quite charming to see him break down M.C. walls and show her that chivalry isn't chauvinism. Having everything from horseback rides to sword-fights, “Musketeer” is truly a story for those who are romantics at heart.

“The Con and the Crusader” is more along the lines of the redemption story. Jack starts out a scoundrel (and petty crook) and works hard to make himself into a man. The twist on this story is that Jack isn't really trying to reform, it just kind of happens as he struggles to make his way in the nineteenth century. Prodded back onto the right track by his wife's strict moral code, Jack soon finds himself a respected member of the community and a loving father. Complete with a villainous banker, “The Con and the Crusader” is a heart-warming tale of how hard work, true love and strong relationships can overcome anything.

The three stories, so different at heart, sparkle with humor, hope and just a bit of paranormal help. Readers who want a little magic in their romances (and their lives) will be quite taken with Ms. Shayne's latest.

--Amanda Waters


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