As a rule, when I discover an author, I try to read her entire backlist. I thought I had done so with Judith McNaught until a friend suggested A Kingdom Of Dreams. As a huge fan of Whitney, My Love, I was excited to discover that Whitney's hero is a descendant of the characters in Kingdom. If you're into knights and fair maidens, this book is fast paced and contains enough humorous repartee to make for an utterly entertaining read. It is also poignant and touching, and a two-hanky read. How could it not be great?
A Kingdom Of Dreams tells the tale of the first Duke of Claymore, tall, dark and rugged Royce Westmoreland. Dubbed "The Wolf" by Henry VII when still a child, the very mention of his name strikes fear in the hearts of his enemies. However, there is more to our hero than legend has it. Can he actually (pardon the pun) be a sheep in wolf's clothing? Yes, he is a mighty warrior and has won many a battle, but all he seeks is a woman who accepts him for the man he is and not the legend. His greatest desire is to retire from battle and share a peaceful life with a wife in the castle he began building eight years ago.
Jennifer is the daughter of the head of the Scots clan Merrick. Her mother died in childbirth, so her father remarried a woman with four children. Three of these children are sons, thus acquiring the much needed heirs. Two of these step-brothers are as wicked as they come. They want Jennifer out of the way, so there is no interference in their becoming head of the clan. They do this by spreading falsehoods about her to the clan and Jennifer becomes a social pariah. Always fighting for love and acceptance, Jennifer tries standing up to her brothers and is rewarded by being sent to a convent. While there, Jennifer tries to curb her reckless ways and become someone her clan will admire, rather than feel contempt for.
After languishing in the convent, her father finally deigns to visit her. He wants her to marry some old lecher who happens to be the head of another clan. Jennifer must agree to this for him to gain the additional troops he will need to fight "The Wolf". Reluctantly, Jennifer agrees. When Jennifer goes off to brood about her future with her beloved step-sister Brenna, they are kidnapped by Stefan Westmoreland, "The Wolf's" brother. Quite proud of his accomplishment, he brings the girls to camp and dumps Jennifer off at Royce's tent. Royce is anything but pleased.
It seems Jennifer's reputation has preceeded her, but Royce find Jennifer anything but plain and conceited. He's captivated by her fiery beauty and impressed with her honesty and the fact that she doesn't cower before him. No, she tries to stab him! He's also impressed with her intelligence. She gains his trust by offering to do some much needed mending, never realizing she is plotting their escape dressed as boys. She and Brenna do escape, but when Royce catches her, there is hell to pay. Her reaction to his punishment is astonishing to him, and his admiration grows into something more.
Each begins to discover the truth about the other. Royce begins to see that Jenny craves love and acceptance and makes her feel needed and cared for. Jenny begins to understand that Royce's reputation is just that, that he is more than simply a warrior. What's more, she actually brings laughter into his life.
Royce comes to want her as he's wanted no woman ever before, so they strike a bargain. She will surrender her virginity if Brenna is allowed to return to the abbey.
The love scene that follows is probably the most touching that I have ever read. Royce, scarred from numerous battles, expected revulsion, or even excitement over his legend. What he least expected was Jennifer's reaction. Upon seeing his scars she says,"My God, how they've hurt you!" and proceeded to kiss each scar as if to heal him. Royce also didn't expect his own reaction to Jenny and his need to make her feel cherished for the first time in her life. Apparently, he succeeded in his plans, as his Jenny confesses her kingdom of dreams. A kingdom where there is peace and prosperity and where she would be looked upon as a hero to her people. Royce decides to give Jenny her dream, but she is spirited away by her one good step-bother, William before he gets the chance to tell her.
What follows is a nightmare for both Royce and Jenny, and when they are finally brought together in marriage, each is bitterly hurt and humiliated. Worse is that Jennifer has gone from one home where she is considered a pariah to another where she is considered the same.
Royce and Jenny begin their lives together and slowly regain some of what they had felt before she was wrested away from Royce. Jenny manages to earn the respect of her new people and helps them to see Royce as he truly is, and not a fearsome warrior. Unfortunately, a tragic accident occurs and Jenny's heart feels broken in two. Where do her loyalties really lie? With her husband or her family?
As Royce sets out to regain her love and trust, he makes a promise that could ultimately kill cost him his life. After Royce's loyal brother Stefan makes Jenny aware of this, the reality of Royce's love for her sinks in. Her response is one of the most touching scenes I've ever read. Even the most cynical reader will be reaching for a box of tissue.
This particular book is my "All Time Favorite" which I keep and read again and again. I especially love Royce; as battle-hardened as he was, he still possessed a heart of gold. That he was able to see beyond the false bravado and give Jennifer what she needed the most made me love him more. What woman wouldn't love a man so sensitive to a woman's needs? If I could but travel back to medieval times and meet a Royce of my own! I loved Jennifer as well because I can think back to times in my life when I felt as she did. All those teen-aged insecurities! Trying to fit in and belong! The things we all sometimes do for attention! I remember thinking, now if I did this or that wouldn't everyone be proud? I guess the purpose of this story is that we can one and all aspire to our very own "Kingdom Of Dreams", whatever they may be.
This story will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and it will leave you with the feeling that no matter how tough life can get, there's always something to hope for. It's a great read!
-- Chris Furbacher
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