Border Lord
by Haywood Smith, historical (2001)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-97859-6

Duncan Maxwell may be half-English, but he hates everything English. He is, after all, a Scots hunk, you know. But right now he is puzzled. His clan's best kept secret - and greatest treasure - is a salt mine, but someone has apparently betrayed their secrets to some enemy scumbags. His people's salt shipments are being stolen and he is not happy. But who among his small loyal clan will betray them all?

Meanwhile, Catherine Armstrong, Englishwoman, is thrown overboard in a shipwreck and ends up washed ashore to be found by Duncan's men. Seeing her a woman with jewelry and deducing that her ransom may make up for his people's loss in revenue (hey, they are all starving, you know), he drags her back to his place. Duncan also have seven kids who need a mother. If you don't know where the story will go from hereonwards, you haven't been reading romances enough.

Despite all the annoying predictable elements - Catherine suddenly pulls a Super Nanny and Super Land Manageress and Wonder Chateleine stunt from out of her shapely bottom, all the secondary characters deja vu can buy (dotty old lady, bumbling hero's loyal friend, some earnest wide-eyed kiddies, et cetera), and all the predictable character baggages (no love, I'm not pretty, you're not worthy, I'm not worthy, et cetera), this story actually charms me over. Yes, it really does. Catherine is the typical feitsy plain heroine who believes she will never marry, et cetera, but she is no pushover. A plus is her actually having a sense of humor, and she only blames herself for all the world's problems only once. Okay, maybe twice, but she doesn't overdo it in a stupid way.

I have a bit of a problem with Duncan. The good - he is an honorable, decent man underneath his gruff exterior. Bad? The man has no sense of humor. Smile, Duncan, smile, smile, smile. Won't kill you. The man is so serious and so broody and so willing to take responsibilities for all the sins in the world that he comes off a colorless character. What's wrong with a little laughter from heroes? Broody, tough, macho alpha heroes make good hunting dogs, but they don't seem like fun lifetime companions. And frankly, I wonder how Duncan comes by his Black Bastard name. His clansmen are, to be blunt, complete twits ripe for enemy clans' lunchtime genocide parties. No wonder Duncan has no sense of humor, come to think of it. Must be tough playing nanny 24 hours a day.

Border Lord doesn't break new grounds and it won't win any super innovation award. But for a few hours of fun romp in utopia Highland starring a likeable heroine, this story will more than suffice. Now who wants to volunteer to pull the plug out of Duncan's bum? Rubber gloves will be provided.

Rating: 84

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