Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Temptation of the Warrior by Margo Maguire

Merrick MacLochlainn is a warrior on a mission from the past. In 981, he and his clan of magic-users are under attack by a great evil, somehow awakened from where it was imprisoned. His clan seer tells him he must seek Keating on the High Road in Carlisle. Knowing that whatever this "Keating" is lies far in the future, Merrick travels through time to the future, seeking a special stone called a blood stone, with which to overcome the sorceress Elianora. As High Chief of his clan, it is his duty to go, as his brother, Brogan, has already gone seeking the other blood stone.

In 1826, Jenny Keating is a teacher in a small school called Bresland School in Kirtwarren, Northumbria. The headmaster, Reverend Usher, is a cold, cruel man who takes delight in abusing her physically and savaging her with his tongue. When she dares defy him by leaving, he is livid. Anything Jenny had has been taken from her during her life, from her parents who died, to her relatives, who sent her to Bresland school to live. When she finally graduated, she had nowhere else to go and returned to the school as a teacher. All she has to remind her of her parents is a small silver locket. Not pretty, and the lock has been jammed shut for as long as she has had it, but it is the only rememberance she has of her mother. And now it is missing.

But with the reverend's threats ringing in her ears, Jenny leaves the school to travel to her new job. On the road, however, she is attacked by bandits, and is only saved when Merrick, newly arrived from the past, appears to save her. During the fight, he is cracked on the head by one of the bandits and falls unconscious. They are saved by the arrival of some Gypsies who take Merrick for Jenny's husband, a ruse she goes along with to save the both of them, for she feels gratitude that this stranger tried to save her.

When Merrick awakes, he cannot remember anything of who he is, or his mission in Carlisle. Jenny's last name, Keating, does sound familliar, but he cannot say why. He finds himself powerfully attracted to this woman who he thinks is his wife, but at first his injuries prevent him from doing much about it. They travel with the Gypsies and the only payment Nicola must make is to teach the leader and his son how to read, so that they cannot be tricked by men with papers. The women take Jenny in and offer her support and friendship, but Jenny is afraid when two constables show up in the Gypsy encampment to look for her, claiming that she stole something from the school.

Jenny knows that the Reverend must be behind it. But she cannot figure out why he would go so far as to lie about her to the constables. He never liked her, and he drove the man who loved her and wished to marry her away with lies that the man believed. Merrick, who she has taken to calling Michael in lieu of not knowing his real name, helps protect her from the constables, and when he decides to make love to her as soon as he is recovered enough, she confesses her deception to him. He knows that what she had done was fair, and he can hardly blame her for not telling him the truth. Instead, she tells him about her locket, and he decides to help her get it back in thanks for her nursing of him. And because he is still powerfully attracted to her.

And she to him. As they continue to travel with the gypsies, their relationship grows ever closer. But Merrick is starting to regain his memories, and though they have become lovers, the sight of a red-haired woman from Merrick's past fills Jenny with past fears that Merrick is married with children. And Merrick is sad because he knows he must leave her- he is fated to marry a powerful member of his own people... not the red-haired woman Jenny saw, but another, which makes him all the more determined to get her locket back for her, as a way of repaying her for her kindness. Little does he know the string of inexplicable incidents that seem to follow Jenny and to be linked to her emotions. Is it possible she could have the same type of powers that he has?

But the Reverend is still on Jenny's trail, and the two of them must figure out why the man who seemingly despises her wants to get her back under his control so badly, and then they must deal with the man behind Elianora, who has tracked Merrick to this new time and seeks to kill him before he can find the blood stone and return it to his people... a man who calls himself one of the "Lords of Death". Can Merrick aid Jenny, defeat Pakal, the "Lord of Death", find the blood stone and return to his people before the forces of Pakal and Elianora defeat them all?

I loved this book, which had everything you want in a summertime romance: a strong hero, a strong, powerful heroine who doesn't know her own strength and abilities until she is forced to call on them, and foes who force the hero and heroine together and make them confront their attraction to each other head on.

This novel mixed the problems of the protagonists: Jenny's abusive and nasty headmaster wanting to retain control of her, Merrick's fight against Elianora and Pakal, the problem of who took Jenny's locket, and the search for the blood stone, and interweaves them into one cohesive whole. Even when several of these devolve into the same thread, the story is handled with amazing verve and competence.

Though Merrick is definitely an Alpha-type hero, he doesn't fall into the worst excesses of the Alpha-types, i.e. being a macho dickhead. Indeed, he treats Jenny with a tender gentleness that definitely helps the reader understand why Jenny is falling for him. And Jenny, while being very much the abused and distressed damsel at the beginning of the book, shows us a core of steel which has helped her survive up until this point.

This book is marketed as a historical romance, but has a strong thread of paranormal elements in it. While that might be problem for some readers, it wasn't for me, but I felt I should warn those who might be put off by such things. An excellent book, the perfect reading for a nice summer day on the beach.

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