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Jessi Rose LucasThe High Price of Love
Sex and history are dual subjects of Bertrice Small's best novels, Hellion being a personal favorite of mine. This title may soon be replaced in my affections by her book, Betrayed, now available in paperback. One thing that separates Small's novels from the rest of the pack is that she writes a scene of eroticism that actually does seem integral to the plot of her story. Betrayed is a terrific example of this, and it's no wonder that Bertrice Small has acquired the title "Queen of Sensual Romance."
From the start, this novel reeks of pure sensual electricity. Not that the opening pages, which find Angus Gordon on a hunt for the man who stole his cattle, are about passion. It's the early 15th century, in the Highlands of Scotland, and Angus is laird of a castle on a beautiful loch -- and he does not abide cattle thieves. Chasing the thief to a modest house in the glen, Angus finds the alluring Fiona Hay. It turns out two of Fiona's sisters are to be wed, and the cattle on the 15-year-old girl's land are intended for their dowries. Fiona insists she is not a thief but the daughter of a noble Scotsman and his long-suffering wife, both of whom have passed on. She has raised her sisters herself, and still has the two youngest under her care.
Still, when Angus insists that the cattle thief pay for her crime, Fiona makes him an offer he can't refuse. She offers herself, or more specifically, her maidenhead. Taken with the fetching girl, Angus accepts on the spot. In fact, he even brings her family and his last two servants to his castle to care for them. Any other writer might have a hard time making this arrangement work -- the bargained-for sexual deflowering of a maiden -- but Small imbues Fiona with such spirit and honor, and Angus with such affection and care for her, that they create magic together.
Fiona is a lady in a predicament. She is a young woman of her time, and now that Angus has taken her honor, she is unmarriageable at a time when women often needed husbands for basic protection and survival. Angus, meanwhile, will not take her for his wife, nor would she give herself to him in that way. Instead, she becomes his mistress, much to the shock of Angus's earthy but wise sister, Janet Stewart. Janet warns Angus that he should marry Fiona or risk her destruction, but Angus is set. He made a bargain, and it did not include marriage.
As Fiona comes to understand her so-called master, and to learn more about his political connections, she gets closer to the court of King James. This becomes her undoing -- soon she is used as a spy. Like her mother before her, Fiona is pulled from the arms of the man she loves and thrust into the arms of another. The swirl and pageant of history unfold about her as she fights to find love and passion in a time of divided loyalties.
May I call this little novel magnificent? For what Bertrice Small has done is begin with a tiny jewel of a social wrong -- the bargain struck between Fiona and Angus for her virginity. Small takes this gem and cuts it like a diamond until it shines, and then embeds it in the gold and silver of the larger world. The consequences of Fiona's rash bargain to save her sisters' dowries turn her world upside down. Bertrice Small's Betrayed, is rich with history and eroticism, two aspects of the historical romance novel that have been given short shrift lately. With Betrayed, Small has written a beautiful and daring novel.
— Jessi Rose Lucas, barnesandnoble.com