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Hearts Run Wild

Timeless by Shelly Thacker
(Dell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-22514-0
If you go to the Reviewers' Top Ten Lists page and find my name, you'll see that Shelly Thacker's Forever His is one of my all-time favorite romances. So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled with the prospect of reading and reviewing Timeless, which is a spin-off of Forever His. And this well-crafted book came very close to fully living up to my expectations.

The hero and heroine of Timeless are Hauk Valbrand, a mysterious Viking , and Avril de Varennes, a young French widow and mother. Hauk and Avril's relationship gets off to a rocky start when he kidnaps her, carries her off to his mystical homeland (the island of Asgard), and marries her in spite of her protests.

But he's not the brute he appears to be, as the reader knows all along and Avril gradually discovers. (In fact, he didn't even want to kidnap her - he did it to save her life). Thacker is a master at crafting impossible plots, and Timeless is no exception. Avril, finding herself a captive on the island, vows to somehow return to her three year old daughter. Hauk can't let her leave, because that would endanger Asgard, a magical island that has remained hidden from the rest of the world for hundreds of years. So even as they grow to care for each other, their relationship seems doomed.

And it's a wonderful relationship. Hauk is so much more than he appears to be - at heart, he's a gentle man filled with pain, and he comes to appreciate and love Avril for all that she is - an independent and strong but vulnerable woman. For her part, Avril's initial (and understandable) fury towards Hauk fades as she discovers his kindness and quiet strength. And Asgard is almost a paradise - there's unending peace, perpetual summer, and ample wealth and leisure for all who live there. But she simply can't stay - she can't abandon her daughter. And Hauk, due to the laws of the island and other factors I can't reveal here, can't leave Asgard for more than six days at a time.

How can it possibly work? Thacker creates a powerful, compelling external conflict, but that's not all there is to the story. There's also internal conflict, as Hauk and Avril are both reluctant to give in to love again due to their mutually painful pasts. Avril lost a beloved husband three years prior to the story, and Hauk has lost two wives. Again, for reasons I can't reveal here, he knows he will lose Avril as well, in time. He's determined not to go through that kind of pain again, and Avril doesn't want to risk losing another love, either.

What makes each of them overcome their determination not to love is, ultimately, concern for the other. Neither can stand the pain the other is in - they must reach out, they must risk, they must offer their hearts. I loved this. It was a beautiful testimony to the kind of caring, mature, selfless, and strong people these two characters are.

Actually, there were many, many things I loved about this book. The mystical elements (the things I can't reveal here for fear of spoiling the story) add a fascinating dimension to the book, the plot is solid, compelling, and well-crafted, the characters are likeable - even lovable, and the entire book has a wonderful bewitching quality. I felt so involved in it that I thought about the characters often at work, at the grocery store, in my car - wherever I was until I could get back to the book. Plus, there's a sweet and lovely secondary romance that provides a beautiful contrast to the more troubled relationship between Hauk and Avril.

In fact, I really only had one problem with it, and it wasn't so much that it failed in any way as that it didn't succeed as well as I wanted it to. In the end, I felt that the major external conflict in the story - Hauk and Avril's inability to be together forever - was resolved in a slightly unsatisfying way. I wanted one of them, or both of them, to do something to overcome this giant obstacle, but instead, they are "saved" by someone else. This deus ex machina resolution left me a little unfulfilled, and I admit I expect more of Thacker, who has solved these kinds of problems in other books in overwhelmingly satisfying ways.

But that's it. I still found it to be an involving, beautiful story, and I can definitely recommend it - particularly if you're a fan of the Highlander TV series (a tiny hint). So go get your copy of Timeless - but make sure you have plenty of timeless moments to enjoy it, because you won't want to put it down.

--Ellen Hestand

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