I have always had a soft spot for the literary convention of kidnapped brides ever since I saw the charming movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It just tickled me that the right women would be shanghai'd, forced to spend time with one or more initially unappealing men and yet, in the brief time of captivity meet their perfect match. I know, I know. It's called Stockhausen's Syndrome. But not in romances; it's not creepy there. In romances, especially those set in crumbling, freezing castles in Scotland during a blizzard, this is a perfectly valid and heart-warming plot contrivance. And in this three part novel, written by three of the biggest and most popular names in romance, it is perfectly charming.
In this collaborative novel, Taran Ferguson, the Laird of the Fergusons, has hatched a plan to find his two unmarried nephews brides. Taran himself has no children so his sisters' sons are his heirs and yet neither one shows any likelihood of getting married and providing heirs of his own any time soon. Robin, the Comte de Rocheforte was the son of Taran's sister and an impoverished French count so he doesn't have two nickels to rub together. And since he's the one who will inherit Taran's crumbling, desperately in need of a cash infusion castle, he must find an heiress, Byron, the Earl of Oakley, daughter of another of Taran's sisters, just suffered a broken betrothal when he discovered his fiancee in a clinch with her dancing master. But Taran wants both nephews married now. So when Oakley and Robin come for their annual winter visit, he and some of his loyal men raid a ball at the not too distant castle of an English lord and abduct some potential brides. The men carry off four women (one by accident as she's not an heiress) and because he happened to be sleeping in the carriage they comandeered, the Duke of Bretton as well. Once everyone is assembled at Finovair Castle, a blizzard traps all of them together, making the passes over which the women's potential rescuers must travel impossible, and guaranteeing that the eight main characters must spend some quality time together.
Each of the three authors takes one couple as her focus, similarly to a novella but each pairing builds on the previous one as well. The most unifying thread of all is Miss Marilla Chisholme, the most beautiful of the group of women and an heiress to boot. She's quite pleased with the prospect of the titled gentlemen, acting fairly scandalously with each of the men in turn, hoping to capture the attention of one of them. But the Duke of Bretton and Catriona Burns, both accidental kidnappees, bond quite quickly. Finding that they are very much in synch with each other, they get to know each other deeply and seriously and wonder if the depth of their love can be real and sustaining. And so Bret is out of the running for the forward Marilla. Next she sets her sights on Byron, Earl of Oakley and he initially thinks that her complete lack of regard for convention and propriety, which is 180 degrees different than his former fiancee, might suit him. But he quickly realizes that instead of the flamboyant Marilla, he is in fact drawn to her older sister Fiona, who has a scandalous secret in her past. Between them, the stiff-rumped earl and the woman with a muddy reputation will have to decide if they care for society's misguided pronouncements on each of them or if they belong together. And so the rapacious Marilla zeros in on Robin, Comte de Rocheforte. But he and Lady Cecily Tarleton, the quiet English beauty who has a reputation for having a meek and compliant personality, have fallen hard for each other from the minute they set eyes on each other. Their chief hurdle to happiness together is reputed rakehell Robin believing that he is worthy of Cecily and proper Cecily being willing to drive her own future.
Each of the love stories is fairly charming and Marilla's obvious ploys with the men lend an air of frivolity and strained hilarity to the enforced togetherness. Each of the characters is carefully written to be quite distinct which makes sense given the different writing styles of the authors. The biggest drawback to the novel is that each of the characters falls in love so very quickly and their stories start and finish over the course of three days, giving a rushed feeling to them, especially to Marilla's fate. But over all, historical romance fans, especially existing fans of these three authors, will thrill to this fast-reading, well-integrated collaboration.