Devil in a Kilt
by Sue-Ellen Welfonder
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61025-9
Linnet MacDonnell had never been one to delude herself. Not a conventional beauty, her father had never given any sort of indication that he had any hopes of marrying her off. Therefore, Linnet spent her childhood studying healing herbs, and roughhousing with her brothers. Heck, she could throw a knife better than most of them! Imagine her surprise when it turns out that daddy does plan to marry her off, to the notorious Duncan MacKenzie no less. What’s a girl to do? Well being 1325 Scotland there aren’t many options, so she soon finds herself married to a man rumored to have killed his first wife.

Duncan MacKenzie had no desire for a second marriage, but he needs Linnet. See, the girl has “the sight” and he desperately wants to know if young Robbie is his son or that of his odious half-brother, Kenneth. The death of his first wife was the closing chapter of a period marked by death, destruction, and ultimately the question of the Robbie’s paternity. It is only Linnet’s gift he wants, and he spends the next 400 pages trying to convince himself of that fact.

Linnet looks upon Duncan and sees a man who has haunted her visions for years. Initially frightened by her abrasive husband, she soon comes to realize that he is not to be feared, but understood. Desperate to unlock his emotions and ease his pain, she is also determined to not tell him the truth about Robbie. He must learn to love the boy regardless, and Linnet has taken it upon herself to show the man the error of his ways.

I liked Linnet, but frankly, it’s hard not to. While unsure of her ability to attract her husband (or any man for that matter), she is completely confident in her abilities as a healer and her mythical gift of “sight.” She’s a woman who knows what she wants almost from the moment she lays eyes on her husband, and she doesn’t back down over the course of this story.

I had more of a problem when it came to Duncan, as he reminded me quite a bit of the romance heroes of old - macho, wounded, stubborn and very alpha. Admittedly, I’m not much of an alpha-hero loving girl, but Duncan just doesn’t do much of anything to win me over. He spends the majority of his time skulking about his castle, riding off into battle or getting a constant erection around his wife. Frankly, by the end of this story, I was fed up with hearing about the state of Duncan’s manhood.

Normally, when one of the main characters doesn’t work for me, the book usually lands in 2-heart territory, but there’s quite a bit in Devil In A Kilt that distinguishes Welfonder’s debut. First, the author blessedly limits the use of the brogue. I could understand everything that all of the characters were saying! Moreover, the author knows her setting well, for this story had a very nice sense of place.

The secondary characters are also a cut above - most notably Sir Marmaduke, Duncan’s brother-in-law. He’s a character practically begging for his own story. However, my personal favorite was the villain, Kenneth. 9 times out of 10, I find villains in romance tedious fare, due to the one-dimensional nature they often seem to suffer from. Kenneth is evil, despicable; an all around odious guy, but there’s a smarmy charm about him that makes his presence a real page-turner. The first confrontation between Kenneth and Linnet is heady stuff, with a chemistry that leaps right off the page.

Welfonder’s debut shows her promise as a writer, with her mix of paranormal and historical elements. The knowledge of her setting, promising secondary characters, and an admirable heroine all led to a read that transported me back to the Highlands. Scottish romance enthusiasts will likely be pleased with this debut, and romance readers everywhere should keep an eye on this author. I know I will.

--Wendy Crutcher

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